Scientists take stunning picture of planet around two hot and huge stars

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 08 December 2021 16:22
<p>This image shows the most massive planet-hosting star pair to date, b Centauri, and its giant planet b Centauri b</p>

This image shows the most massive planet-hosting star pair to date, b Centauri, and its giant planet b Centauri b

Scientists have revealed an image of a planet around two stars so hot and huge they thought they could not serve as a home to other worlds.

The new image, taken from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, shows a planet orbiting b Centauri.

That is a two-star system that can be seen with the naked eye. It is also the hottest and most massive star system ever to be found with a planet around it.

Indeed, those stars are so hot and so huge that some scientists thought it was impossible for them to host planets like the one in the new image.

“Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars as planet hosts,” said Markus Janson, a Stockholm University astronomer and the first author on a paper describing the findings.

Until now, scientists had only found other planets around stars, or sets of them, that were at most three times as massive as our Sun. The binary star around which the new planet orbits is at least six times the mass of our Sun.

It is also very hot, like most massive stars. It is more than three times as hot as our Sun, and throws out large amounts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

The combination of the large mass and heat of the star would usually make it difficult for planets to form around it. Scientists previously thought that the high-energy radiation coming form the hot stars would evaporate any material, causing a destructive and dangerous environment that would be hostile to any forming planet.

But something has – and is shown in the new image. The planet is as extreme as the system it calls home: it is one of the most massive planets ever found, 10 times that of Jupiter, and moves around its system in a huge orbit, more than 100 times the distance between Jupiter and our Sun.

“The planet in b Centauri is an alien world in an environment that is completely different from what we experience here on Earth and in our Solar System,” said co-author Gayathri Viswanath, a PhD student at Stockholm University. “It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are bigger.”

That article, ‘A wide-orbit giant planet in the high-mass b Centauri binary system’, is published in Nature.

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