Published on October 16th, 20120
Take that, Tatooine: First planet with four suns found
Love to watch the sun set? You would be spoiled for choice on new-found planet PH1, the first world discovered in a four-star system. The unique planet circles a pair of stars that orbit each other, known as a binary, which are in turn orbited by another distant stellar pair. That gives PH1 two more suns than Tatooine, the fictional world that appears in the Star Wars saga.
Signs of PH1 were first spotted by volunteers via planethunters.org, which lets citizen scientists review data from NASA’s Kepler telescope. Astronomers then followed up with observations from the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, which confirmed the planet’s existence.
PH1 is thought to be a gas giant with a radius around six times that of Earth, making it larger than Neptune. The planet orbits a pair of stars, one slightly larger than the sun and one smaller, roughly every 138 days. Further out, at a distance of around 100 billion kilometres, about 1000 times the gap between Earth and the sun, a second pair of stars orbits the first.