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Astronomers’ discovery raises new questions

One of the largest planets ever discovered orbits the two stars at enormous distances, with a combined mass of up to ten times the Sun.

This discovery highlights that exoplanets can occur in star systems with a much greater mass than previously thought, overturning the current theory of planet formation. professionals Their results were published in the scientific journal Nature.

Planet Cen (AB) b is about 325 light-years from Earth in the b Centauri system, two days orbiting each other. Both stars have more mass than any star discovered so far and also have a planet. Observations so far indicate that giant planets very rarely or never occur near stars greater than three solar masses.

However, the total mass of B Centauri stars is at least six times the mass of the Sun.

The largest member of the double star system is 5-6 times the mass of the Sun and three times hotter while emitting huge amounts of ultraviolet and X-rays. It is called a type B spectrum, so it is a very bright blue star. In cosmological terms, it is very young, about 15 million years old (by comparison, the Sun is 4.5 billion years old).

There is much less information about the smaller star. It is estimated that its mass could be somewhere on the scale of ten to four times the mass of the Sun.

The two stars orbit relatively close to each other, close to the Sun and Earth. The star system is also visible to the naked eye from Earth in the constellation Centaur.

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The gas giant appears to be similar in composition to Jupiter, but weighs 11 times more, which puts it in the category of the so-called super-Jupiter. This class of planets surpasses the largest planet in the solar system in terms of its mass.

The research team, led by Markus Jansson, an astronomer at Stockholm University, also notes another special feature of an exoplanet 10 times larger than Jupiter: its distance from its parent star is 100 times that of the Sun and Jupiter and 560 times that of Jupiter. earth sun.

This may be the largest orbit ever discovered, American astronomer Caitlin Crater wrote in an article accompanying the study. This long distance from the central star pair may be the secret to the planet’s survival, the European Space Agency (ESO) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The discovery also raises new questions about the origin of the planets. So far, no planet has been found orbiting a star three times the mass of the Sun. This is because stars larger than that emit so much radiation that scientists say would make planet formation impossible. However, this discovery overturns this view.

“It seems that the process of planet formation can happen in an incredible variety of ways.

“It has gone beyond our imaginations many times in the past, and is likely to continue as such in the future,” said Marcus Jansson, lead author of the study.

Scientists say that it is unrealistic for the gas giant to be created in this place in the usual way, through the so-called fundamental innovations. According to this model, the particles of the protoplanetary disk stick together to form rocky cores that collect large amounts of gas around them.

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It is conceivable that the planet evolved elsewhere and did not take its place until much later. At the same time, the gas giant’s orbit indicates that it formed near its current location, possibly as a result of the gravitational collapse of the gas and dust disk.

The discovery was made by an international research team, including scientists from the University of Zurich and the Technical University of Zurich, using the Sphere instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Opening photo: ESO / L. Calsada