A new planet with three suns has been discovered in the constellation of Centaurus, according to a report published in the weekly ‘Science’ journal. Around 320 light years away from Earth, the planet, named HD 131399Ab, was found in Chile at the European Southern Observatory using an advanced device called the Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research Instrument (VLT-SPHERE).
With this thermal imaging instrument, it’s possible to take pictures of exoplanets that are high in temperature, and an adequate distance away from their suns, with the tool having been developed for studying stars, as the general consensus has been that no planet would be positioned at the correct distance to otherwise be visible.
Based on preliminary studies conducted by the research team, it is theorized that HD 131399Ab formed in a different location, before somehow managing to move to its present position; and that position is part of what makes the newly discovered planet so unique. After all, HD 131399Ab has three suns, with the planet taking 550 Earth-based years to orbit around the largest of these stars which is believed to be 80 percent more massive than our own Sun. The planet is also pulled toward the two smaller suns that revolve around each other, and the three stars themselves are orbiting around a center of the newly discovered mini system.
According to predictions of the orbits of HD 131399Ab and its three suns, daylight conditions on the planet would be very different from what they are on Earth. During some periods of time over the course of one HD 131399Ab year, the planet would receive continuous daylight, while other seasons would see three distinct sunrises and sunsets.
Of course, there is unlikely to be any life on the planet HD 131399Ab to see these sunrises. The planet is a gas giant, similar to the ones in our outer solar system, only HD 131399Ab is much bigger. The planet’s mass is believed to be 400 percent greater than Jupiter’s mass. Temperatures on the planet’s surface are an estimated 850 Kelvin or 577 degrees Celsius. While that’s rather hot by Earth’s standards, the temperature is much cooler than what’s estimated for the other exoplanets.
Believed to be only 16 million years old, HD 131399Ab is one of the youngest planets to be located outside of our solar system, and the researchers who discovered it believe that its future is uncertain. As previously stated, the team believes that HD 131399Ab did not always occupy its present position orbiting its sun in this particular solar system, and they similarly believe that the planet’s movements may not yet be entirely finished. It’s possible that the gravitation pull of the two spinning suns in the solar system could at some point draw HD 131399Ab out of its present orbit, putting the dual suns at the center of its orbit instead.