“Until now, no planets had been spotted around a star more than three times as massive as the Sun,” wrote the European Southern Observatory.
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has recorded an image of a planet around the two-star system b Centauri – European Southern Observatory

Key takeaways

  • Scientists found a large planet, b Centauri (AB)b, around a massive pair of hot stars.
  • This finding contradicts the belief that planets cannot form around stars more than three times the mass of the Sun.
  • The B-type dual star system emits intense radiation, making it a seemingly hostile place for planet formation.
  • The planet is ten times the mass of Jupiter, making it one of the largest known exoplanets.
  • The planet’s orbit is extremely wide, 100 times the distance between Jupiter and the Sun, which may help it survive the harsh conditions.

Scientists have identified a large planet around a gigantic pair of extremely hot stars, long considered to be too inhospitable for planet formation.

According to a study report published Wednesday in the science magazine Nature, the finding of the planet, known as “b Centauri (AB)b” or “b Centauri b,” contradicts a generally held opinion among astronomers.

“Until now, no planets had been spotted around a star more than three times as massive as the Sun,” reported the European Southern Observatory, which imaged the planet with its Very Large Telescope in Chile’s desert.

Markus Janson, an astronomy professor at Stockholm University, led the study and stated that “it completely changes the picture about massive stars as planet hosts.”

The “B-type” dual star in the Centaurus constellation is incredibly large and hot. It generates significant volumes of high-energy ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, which have “a strong impact on the surrounding gas that should work against planet formation,” according to the European Southern Observatory.

“B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments, so it was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them,” Janson wrote in his news release.

“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.” – GAYATHRI VISWANATH, a Ph.D. student at Stockholm University

The finding was described in July and was officially published in Nature. The study’s “results show that planets can reside in much more massive stellar systems than what would be expected from extrapolation of previous results.”

The recently discovered b Centauri (AB)b is an exoplanet, or planet beyond our own solar system, that “is 10 times as massive as Jupiter, making it one of the most massive planets ever found,” according to the observatory.

In the press release, co-author Gayathri Viswanath, a Ph.D. student at Stockholm University, described it as “an alien world in an environment that is completely different from what we experience here on Earth and in our solar system.”

“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,” according to Viswanath.

The observatory stated that the planet’s orbit is “one of the widest yet discovered,” 100 times wider than the distance between Jupiter and the sun. “This large distance from the central pair of stars could be key to the planet’s survival,” according to the report.

While the snapshot published this month is the first of the planet since its discovery, experts say b Centauri (AB)b was observed but not recognized in prior telescope photographs.

Janson said in an email that the discovery has inspired him and his colleagues to expand on a study dubbed BEAST, which is looking at 85 similar stars.

“We will be attempting to acquire more telescope time for an extended survey, and we are also scanning all the telescope archives after any individual high-mass stars that might have been observed in the past,” says Janson.

“I think in the field altogether there will be an increased search intensity toward high-mass stars, both for the purpose of detecting planets, but also for characterizing them, to find out what they are composed of and try to figure out more in detail how they might have formed,” the author stated.

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