Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Amateur Planet Hunters Find First Planet In a Four-Star System

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the four-suns-are-better-than-one dept.

Space 52

The Bad Astronomer writes "For the first time, a planet has been found in a stellar system composed of four stars. The planet, called PH-1, orbits a binary star made of two sun-like stars in a tight orbit. That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out. Even more amazing, this planet was found by two "citizen scientists", amateurs who participated in Planet Hunters, a project which puts Kepler Observatory data online for lay people to analyze. At least two confirmed planets have been found by this project, but this is the first — ever — in a quaternary system."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Four stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659925)

Four stars but no hotel to be found.

Six stars (3)

doti (966971) | about 2 years ago | (#41660187)

and we'd get Nightfall [wikipedia.org]

Re:Six stars (1)

amirulbahr (1216502) | about 2 years ago | (#41664895)

They would all have to disappear below the horizon once every thousand years or so.

It's an interesting premise for a story, but I don't know if I really bought into the whole going crazy thing.

Re:Six stars (4, Interesting)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 2 years ago | (#41666441)

Easy, the planet could have a slow rotation. The planet orbits two stars (who orbit each other extremely closely). At an orbit further out two other stars orbit the entire system of 2 stars and a planet. The large orbit of the "outer stars" means everything can be in such a configuration:
0 = star . = planet _ = space because nbsp's don't work

00 _ _ _ _ 00 .

This would give a night. Half a year later (from the planets POV)

00 _ _ _ . 00
and they have no night.

My question is: how can such a system be stable? The planet would have vastly different gravitational forces when it's between the starts as opposed to when it's not between the stars. I suppose the outer stars could be in an extremely big orbit (twice the size of Pluto's) so the effect would be slow, but I expect a great risk of orbital instability and thus crashing into the star or being flung out of orbit into the vastness of space. Neither are fun.

Re:Six stars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41668355)

In this case the planet is at about half an AU from one set of stars, and the second is over 1000 AU away, about 25 times Pluto's distance.

Clearly this is Binar 0 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41659945)

Part of the Binar Star Cluster featured on Star Trek. Home of the Binars.

Re:Clearly this is Binar 0 (3, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41659989)

Or possibly the system that Firefly takes place in. That also had four stars.

Re:Clearly this is Binar 0 (3, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41660035)

Or Asimov's Nightfall? (The story, not the movie.)

Re:Clearly this is Binar 0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660055)

Came here for this.

Hey everybody! It's Phil Plait! (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660011)

Good old Phillip is here again, astroturfing his blog. Total garbage. He doesn't care about the Slashdot community. For him it's all about the dollars. He's trying to drum up page hits by putting his third rate blog into the mix instead of just linking directly to the real goods. It stinks to high heaven and if it were anyone else people would be shouting about his shilling.

Re:Hey everybody! It's Phil Plait! (3, Informative)

foniksonik (573572) | about 2 years ago | (#41660153)

You could save the rest of us by linking to said original source.

Re:Hey everybody! It's Phil Plait! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41664207)

You chide him out here for not linking to the original article. Except on the last two submissions from him where he linked to a freely accessible copy of the original article, you admonished him for putting both links to his blog and the original material in the submission.

Or maybe you also happened to be named Phillip and forgot to link to your blog, as it sounds like you are describing yourself half the time.

A 4 star solar system sounds nice... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660047)

But I was really planning on retiring on a 5 star solar system. The help really care about you in those places.

Obligatory (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660053)

Picard : There...are...FOUR...lights!

Re:Obligatory (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about 2 years ago | (#41663009)

You would have gotten bonus points if you quoted 1984 which inspired the TNG scene.

Pretty surprising (5, Interesting)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#41660167)

If planets can form with the gravitational forces of a dual binary system I have to believe virtually all suns have planets of some form. Stars tend to have left over material when they form and that tends to form planets. The more conditions they find that can support planets the more system candidates there are for planets.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#41660441)

I think it depends a lot on how close the stars are together, and their relative masses.

And getting a habitable planet would seem to be unlikely.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Lemmeoutada Collecti (588075) | about 2 years ago | (#41662947)

Unlikely when applied to billions of chances means very, very likely to be more than a few.

Re:Pretty surprising (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41660505)

And it serves to consistently push up the values of some of the terms in Drake's equation.

Back in the early 90's when I hung out with astronomers, the idea of finding exoplanets was still pretty new, and now it seems pretty commonplace.

To me, even if it's not intelligent life we'll ever make contact with, the likelihood that life has evolved on other planets seems like it would pretty much be a near certainty -- to me it has always seemed improbable that only our planet in the arse end of a galaxy would have done so.

Granted, the universe is a fairly hostile place that has lots of ways to wipe out a budding intelligent species. But the notion that we're singularly unique in terms of evolving life in all of that vastness seems improbable.

Re:Pretty surprising (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41661487)

A thought experiment: I propose a modified form of the Drake equation that, for lack of a better name, I will call MozeeToby's Equation:

First, add a term for the probability that a civilization will send out self replicating probes before it dies off. I refuse to believe this number is significantly low (that is, I refuse to believe that 1% of alien civilizations won't be curious enough to do so or die off before they are able). We are just nearing the technological ability to start this effort ourselves and I don't see any reason that the technology should be especially outlandish or unlikely for other civilizations to develop. I'm not saying I'll see the first probes launched in my lifetime, but I have difficulty believing that we won't have the ability in the next thousand years.

Second, get rid of the civilization lifespan variable from Drake's equation. All that matters is that they get the first batch of probes out the door before they die off. After that, the probes will be too numerous and too scattered to realistically be stopped by any natural phenomenon.

Third, add a variable for the probability that these probes make contact when they find an intelligent civilization. I'm prepared to concede that this number could be low, perhaps even in the range of fractions of a percent, but it only takes a single civilization choosing to make contact to blow the whole 'zoo hypothesis' out of the water. Space is simply too large to prevent a single player from making contact against the wishes of everyone else.

Unlike the Drake equation, we know the result of MozeeToby's equation; it's zero. There have been no probes sighted or heard or landing on the White house lawn. If you grant that the two new terms are not infinitesimally small, which I would argue could not be the case based on what we know of evolution and what drives the development of intelligence, one of the other terms, original to the Drake equation must be the problem.

Well, either that or there is a disaster waiting for us somewhere between now and when we develop the technology to build a self replicating probe. Nanotech catastrophe? Antimatter warfare? Something we can't even imagine yet? I have difficulty thinking of serious threats between our current tech level and the levels required.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 2 years ago | (#41661931)

Or, civilizations which advance to the point where they could send out self-replicating probes generally don't bother (or actively engage in policing and killing off the ones from those that do).

It would only take a very small number of space travellers to significantly curtail the self-replicating probe population, and there's a pretty significant interest in doing so if there of the "replicate at all costs" sort. Otherwise, who's to say we simply missed them - the responsible probe builder would design his probes not to wipe out life on other planets - maybe one passed by millions of years ago, landed, took some samples and then left - or just shutdown and rusted away?

At relativistic only velocities there are pretty significant limits on how many probe swarms can be out there, and how frequently they might visit - there could be many, but the mean-time to probe arrival might still be measured in thousands or millions of years. Humans have not been civilized and in communication long enough to reasonably have seen one in that case.

It's also worth considering that the self-replicating probes might not be very reliable. Since a self-replicator is basically what life is in the first place, depending how you built them it's possible probe-swarms tend to either die out, or mutate and turn into life itself which then decides interstellar distances are just slightly too long to be left at home (after all - an individual, but sentient probe, might have quite a real mortality which it would worry about trying to avoid).

Re:Pretty surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41663321)

Otherwise, who's to say we simply missed them - the responsible probe builder would design his probes not to wipe out life on other planets - maybe one passed by millions of years ago, landed, took some samples and then left - or just shutdown and rusted away?

It's just as likely we're here at all because of said hypothetical probe.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Coisiche (2000870) | about 2 years ago | (#41667025)

Or, civilizations which advance to the point where they could send out self-replicating probes generally don't bother

As if. Their economic system concentrates the wealth among a smaller and smaller group of individuals whose only interest is to increase their own personal wealth, and self-replicating probes launched into space don't have a R.O.I.

Re:Pretty surprising (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41661937)

I'm going to assume you're mostly joking or trying to prove something by absurdity, but I have no idea of what it is.

All I'm saying is given the rate at which we find out more about how complex and varied the universe is ... I find it hard to believe that there isn't some Bladarian Moon Slug out there somewhere or at least some form of multi-cellular life. It doesn't need to be intelligent. It doesn't even need to be close. We don't even need to ever encounter it.

But the initial assumptions were that there would only be a small number of planets in the universe is proving to be quite false. Drastically so. In fact, compared to what was believed in the 90's, I'd say orders of magnitude so.

You seem to be doing some form of reductio ad absurdum, but in reverse by injecting arbitrary complexity.

I'm not trying to say anything more than "somewhere out there, at least some form of pond scum must have evolved because the closer that we look, the more there are gazillions of planets in hugely varied conditions".

I'm not entirely sure of what you're trying to say.

Re:Pretty surprising (2)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | about 2 years ago | (#41663011)

Drake's equation involves terms like "civilization" and "intelligent". "Some form of pond scum" is a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

IMO, the notion that more exoplanets means more certainty that intelligent life exists somewhere is specious. The total lack of evidence found amidst this abundance of opportunity suggests to me that the evolution of life of any kind is, in fact, exceedingly rare (perhaps a single event).

This is what MozeeToby's equation seems to be getting at.

Re:Pretty surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41664425)

But the initial assumptions were that there would only be a small number of planets in the universe is proving to be quite false.

When in the last hundred years did anyone believe there would only be a small number of planets in the universe? For as long as I've been alive most scientists in the field seem to have assumed there would be lots, and most stars would have at least one.

The only real surprise is that we seem to be finding more than expected in multiple star systems, but they're probably uninhabitable anyway.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Shadowmist (57488) | about 2 years ago | (#41671493)

And it serves to consistently push up the values of some of the terms in Drake's equation.

Unfortunately it's more than matched by the things that are pushing down the numbers in Drake's equation, such that the majority of exoplanets we've discovered show evidence of violent rearrangement of the solar system, especially in the case of Hot Jupiters, which are gas giants that have moved into orbits much closer than they could have formed in. Such rearrangement could spell doom for the rocky inner planets by majorly disrupting their orbits. The other factors are what seem to be the narrow set of circumstances for producing Earth itself, being at the right distance to prevent Venus or Mars, producing a decent magnetic field to avoid having your atmosphere stripped off, a nicely sized moon for stabilising our axis, Drake's equation is looking lower with each passing year.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660507)

It's not a question of material it's a question of gravitational forces eventually pulling the planet into a star or throwing it out into space. There must be a balance there somewhere.

Re:Pretty surprising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660765)

This still fits with what is expected for planetary formation. The fact that the binary stars are close together means they look like a single gravitational body far enough away, and that one pair is orbiting far away means it is on part with just a distance planet. If you had a system where the stars were more evenly spread out, and stars of similar mass, then it would be more interesting to see if planets form. In this case, you have one nearly central star, a second one orbiting it at a quarter the mass, and then the planet several times the star separation distance away. And for comparison, the distance measured for the second binary pair orbiting the main star is about 25 times the sun-pluto distance.

Re:Pretty surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41662329)

While this might be true for FORMING planets, what about the star system gravitationally capturing a planet that was not originally a part of the star system?

What a view! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41660377)

I'd bet one would see some really beautiful sunsets and rises from the surface!

Re:What a view! (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41662171)

and some fucked-up predators flying around when the place goes dark every 22 years...

Re:What a view! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#41663121)

forget the flying ones,the fucked up bald predator on two legs with the big scary blade is the one to fear

Re:What a view! (2)

avgjoe62 (558860) | about 2 years ago | (#41662343)

Yea, but figuring out the changes needed for Daylight Savings Time adjustments on NT server is pure hell...

How about a picture? (1)

mpeskett (1221084) | about 2 years ago | (#41660731)

I skimmed through the whole paper, and didn't see one overview diagram to show the shape of this thing's orbit. Haven't really gotten a grip even on how 4 stars orbit around each other - is it two binary systems circling a common centre? Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

If anyone has a better handle on this than I do, a clear description would serve just as well as a diagram.

Re:How about a picture? (2)

egamma (572162) | about 2 years ago | (#41660955)

I skimmed through the whole paper, and didn't see one overview diagram to show the shape of this thing's orbit. Haven't really gotten a grip even on how 4 stars orbit around each other - is it two binary systems circling a common centre? Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

If anyone has a better handle on this than I do, a clear description would serve just as well as a diagram.

RTFS:

That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out.

Granted, it doesn't talk about the planet. But my guess is that the planet is orbiting the central pair, like the outer pair.

Re:How about a picture? (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41662259)

there are two barycentres in the system, the planet orbiting both in a Lorentzian orbit (a semi-chaotic figure-8). If the stars were close enough together the planet would be orbiting a barycentre common to them all. Would possibly even have a semi-stable climatic cycle. As it is, it's likely that the planet has random seasonal conditions ranging from hot plasma to nitrogen snow.

Re:How about a picture? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41662751)

The two central stars have an orbit of 20 days. The planet has an orbit of 137 days, meaning it is 3.5 times from the center of the central stars as they are from each other. Additionally, one of the center stars is about a quarter of the mass of the other, so the center of mass is closer to one than the other. Then the second pair of binaries is at a distance of about 1000 AU from the central stars. The planet's orbit looks like about 0.4 AU (from my calculation, the other distance, times and masses are from the original paper).

So this wouldn't look that different from the solar system, as in there are no crazy figure 8 orbits. Two stars are close together in the center, the planet goes around in a circle around the outside of that. That system and the other binary star system then orbit around each other with a separation much larger than the size of each individual part.

Re:How about a picture? (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 2 years ago | (#41668563)

For reference to the 1000 AU orbit of the outer stars: Pluto has a max distance of about 50 AU, so the stars would probably not stand out more than Jupiter now on the night sky.

Re:How about a picture? (2)

Captain Nitpick (16515) | about 2 years ago | (#41662875)

is it two binary systems circling a common centre?

Yes.

Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

There's a diagram of the inner binary system in the paper. It's near the end.

Two stars orbit each other at a distance of about 0.17 AU. The planet is in a circular orbit around both of them at a distance of 0.64 AU.

The other binary pair is about 1000 AU distant from the first pair. It's irrelevant to the planet's orbit.

Someone please explain... (1)

pongo000 (97357) | about 2 years ago | (#41660941)

...why these data cannot simply be processed in such a way that regularly-occurring outliers are identified automatically? How much more accurate is visual identification of magnitude changes over an automated process?

Plus, I think it would be more fun to simply give me some raw data to work with, and let me write my own algorithms for spotting possible transits, rather than inefficiently starting at a screen for hours at a time, clicking yes/no bubbles.

Re:Someone please explain... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661385)

Well, I'd like to think tha Phil Plait could answer but he doesn't care about Slashdot. He just uses Slashdot to pull in hits for his crappy blog. I doubt he even knows the answer himself, truth be told. Phil Plait is just an astroturfer and a shill.

Re:Someone please explain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41666067)

Well, I'd like to think tha Phil Plait could answer but he doesn't care about Slashdot. He just uses Slashdot to pull in hits for his crappy blog. I doubt he even knows the answer himself, truth be told. Phil Plait is just an astroturfer and a shill.

That "shill" has done real science with Hubble data for his post-grad, and has continued to do real science. At least he's not a try hard redneck special effects demolition expert that poops on the scientific method every show ala Myth Bustereds.

Re:Someone please explain... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661455)

In this case, the problem for the pipeline algorithm as that the transits do not occur quite periodically - because of the barycentric motion of the primary star (the only one where the S/N of the data allows transits to be detected), the planet transits the star early or late by several times the transit duration. With only ~7 transits seen in the data, this is a rather different task than finding periodic features, bringing in additional free parameters.

It's not that the visual identification of the amount of magnitude changes is important, it's visual recognition of possible transits around the edges of what the automated routines find, for further examination as in this case, using such additional data as Doppler reflex motion) and eventual refinement of the algorithms.

BSG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41661463)

BSG had that impossible concept of planets orbiting such system http://io9.com/5742034/a-detailed-map-of-battlestar-galacticas-twelve-colonies

As it seems not impossible after all !

the whole goldy locks zone thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41662055)

with 4 suns one would think the goldy locks zone or whatever they call it where there could be hospitable life would have to be larger or have far more possibilities than we know currently. this is a very cool find.

Ob. Pitch Black reference (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41662139)

Bloody hell.

Bah, humbug... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41663373)

That's far too much excitement for observing objects that we theoretically knew would be out there, and their specifics are useless to us until we can reach them (i.e. no time soon). Why bother? Mapping and surveying extrasolar planets [wikipedia.org] will be more cost/time-effective a few decades from now, when we have vast sensor / telescope arrays in space. Those planets, which would take a sub-light expedition many generations to reach, are not going to disappear if we don't map them this instant! We're pretty much stuck in this solar system for the next few millenia - deal with it!

People need to get less emotional about space (StarTreky planets with green chicks) and more greedy about it - in a constructive capitalist sense. The things people do for hobbies and through government funding are almost always less important for progress of civilization than things where there's actual money involved.

What people should be focusing on right now are more practical space ideas for for the foreseeable future: reducing launch costs [wikipedia.org] , robotics, asteroid tracking, asteroid mining [wikipedia.org] , SBSP [wikipedia.org] , space manufacturing [wikipedia.org] , etc... Ya gotta think in terms of making discoveries that make other discoveries possible, and producing technologies that make other technologies possible (ex. by slashing energy and materials costs), thereby creating an optimal positive feedback cycle of growth!

The motto of 21st century space explorers should be: DRILL, BABY, DRILL! [wikipedia.org]

--libman

Klemperer Rosette (1)

dhavleak (912889) | about 2 years ago | (#41663543)

It would have been super cool if it was all symmetrical with the planet in the middle with 4 suns orbiting around it. Of course, that configuration isn't in any way stable.. bit of a Ringworld style problem over there.. More on Klemperer Rosettes for anyone who cares: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klemperer_rosette [wikipedia.org]

Cloverleaf? (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | about 2 years ago | (#41663871)

So, is this planet in a cloverleaf orbit around all four stars?

Yeah I know. Impossible, but still amusing to imagine.

Cool Dating site (1)

lovingrich (2753559) | about 2 years ago | (#41678465)

Recently I have found a place for approaching to the millionaires, and dating with them. I think it may be useful to you. Just check lovingrich.com [lovingrich.com] . Thank you.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?