Friday, July 15, 2005

Queerer Than We Can Imagine

Wow. Astrophysicists are going to have to go back to the drawing board. Wed Jul 13, 2:07 PM ET

A newly discovered planet has bountiful sunshine, with not one, not two, but three suns glowing in its sky.

It is the first extrasolar planet found in a system with three stars. How a planet was born amidst these competing gravitational forces will be a challenge for planet formation theories....

The triple-star system, HD 188753, is located 149 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The primary star is like our Sun, weighing 1.06 solar masses. The other two stars form a tightly bound pair, which is separated from the primary by approximately the Sun-Saturn distance.
Wow. Not ten years ago, this probably would have been called impossible, or nearly so. Simply put, multiple-star solar systems are such a jumble of gravitational forces that it was long deemed impossible for planets to form in them.

Though this latest planet is another in the "Hot Jupiter" type - a gas giant orbiting very near to it's parent star - the fact that it exists at all is astonishing, and arguably provides more evidence for the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Our experience on Earth shows that life began at almost the exact moment it could realistically start - roughly the moment the planet cooled in to a solid mass. With astronomers continually finding planets in places where they shouldn't be, it seems that planet formation is kind of like life on earth - anywhere it can be, it is.

Note - I am not an astronomer, just a slightly-informed layman. Discount my opinions appropriately, as always.

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