This composite image of GW Orionis is from the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
APOD-Film / ESO / Exeter / Kraus et al., L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO)
The star system GW Orionis, relatively close at a distance of only 1,300 light years, couldn’t be much more different from our solar system. GW Ori, as astronomers call it, is a triple star system partially surrounded by dusty rings of space junk where planets may form.
But a new analysis of the protoplanetary cloud suggests that the process may have already produced some fairly large cosmic fruits.
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Researchers led by Jeremy Smallwood, a recent Ph.D. Astronomy graduate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, noticed a significant and confusing void in the dusty panes, which were not only cracked but also warped.
“We propose that the presence of a massive planet (or planet) in the disk separates the inner and outer disks,” write Smallwood and colleagues in a paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society last month. “The disk break in GW Ori is likely caused by undiscovered planets – the first planets in a triple orbit.”
The planets hidden in the dirty belts are likely to be gas giants like Jupiter, which tend to form earlier in the history of a system than rocky planets like Earth.
Astronomers have previously discovered planets in triple star systems, such as LTT 1445Ab, which has three suns in the sky,. If there are confirmed planets around GW Ori, they would be the first to move around a trio of stars.
It also means that there could be a lot going on in the gravitationally bound heavenly garbage cans whipping around distant stars.
“It’s really exciting because it makes the theory of planet formation really robust,” Smallwood said in a statement. “It could mean planet formation is a lot more active than we thought, which is pretty cool.”
And we found the double sunsets on the Skywalker Homestead on Tatooine overwhelming. Truth is always stranger than fiction.