Home > astronomy > Largest known planet to orbit two suns is discovered

Largest known planet to orbit two suns is discovered

Kepler planet comparison - courtesy NASA GSFC, graphic by Lynette Cook

This graphic shows the relative size of several known circumbinary planets. Kepler-1647b is about the size of Jupiter. Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, graphic by Lynette Cook.

Scientists have found a planet about the size of Jupiter orbiting two stars in a nearby solar system, marking the largest known example of a world with multiple suns.

The circumbinary planet, which has been named Kepler-1647b, is in the constellation Cygnus, about 3,700 light years from Earth. Astronomers used the Kepler Space Telescope to discover it.

“It’s a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm, since it is easier to find big planets than small ones,” Dr. Jerome A. Orosz, an astronomer at San Diego State University and a co-author of a paper documenting the discovery, said. “But it is because its orbital period is so long.”

Kepler-1647b’s orbital period is 1,107 days, which means it takes longer to orbit its stars than any other known exoplanet takes to orbit either one star or two.

The planet’s circumbinary orbit made it more difficult to find than would be the case with an exoplanet that circles one star.

“The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth,” Dr. William F. Welsh, another SDSU astronomer and co-author of the paper explaining the discovery, said.

Kepler-1647b orbit

This graphic provides a “bird’s eye” view comparison of the orbits of the Kepler circumbinary planets. Kepler-1647 b’s orbit, shown in red, is much larger than the other planets (shown in gray). For comparison, Earth’s orbit is shown in blue. Graphic courtesy NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, graphic by B. Quarles.

A gas giant, Kepler-1647b is has a similar age as Earth – about 4.4 billion years. The two stars it orbits are similar to our sun, with one being a little larger than the Sun and the other slightly smaller than Earth’s star.

The discovery of Kepler-1647b is described in a paper to be published in Astrophysical Journal.

 

 

 

 

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