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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Astronomers have discovered a planet unlike any other ever found, one that loops widely around one star that is locked in a gravitational embrace with two others in a triple-star system, creating a curious celestial ballet.
The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Science, challenge current notions about what makes a planetary system viable. With three stars in the system, the massive planet would experience triple sunrises and triple sunsets during one season and all daylight in another. Since the planet’s orbit is very long, each season lasts for hundreds of years. “Depending on which season you were born in, you may never know what nighttime is like,” lead researcher Kevin Wagner of the University of Arizona said.
The planet, called HD 131399Ab, is about four times bigger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, and is orbiting in a three-star system located about 340 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
Scientists are not sure how HD 131399Ab came to exist. It orbits its parent star about twice as far as Pluto circles the sun, needing 550 years to complete a single orbit. Astronomers have previously discovered planets in multi-star systems, but never one that circles a parent star with such a wide berth.