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Discovered in the constellation Centaurus, 340 light years from Earth, the planet that could disappear because of its dangerous dance of orbiting companions.
Imagine a world where the seasons last for 140 years, where an object can project three different shades, from the sky falls a rain of iron and sunrise and sunset are incredibly variable: in the sky sometimes there is only one sun, sometimes two, other sometimes three.
It is HD 131399ab, a planet four times the size of Jupiter, and one of the few of whom it was possible to have an image directly.
As reported in the journal Science, HD 131399ab is located in the constellation Centaurus, 340 light years from Earth, and its skies are like a canvas constantly changing thanks to the dance of three only.
This is because the planet rotates around one of the stars – a blue-white giant big roughly twice the Sun – that are part of a triple system. Around it revolve even two smaller stars, which remain close to each other, creating a solar landscape changing.
This system, as exotic and colorful, is not entirely unique. Many planets orbiting binary systems of stars or even triple.
But the latest discovery is particularly because this planet has been observed directly, thanks to the SPHERE instrument on the VLT (Very Large Telescope). There is also another detail: HD 131399ab could not long survive.
Our sun is unusual in its solitude. The majority of nearby stars in our solar system have a companion. So astronomers expect that many planets revolve around groups of stars that have grown together and have remained close.
But such systems must maintain a delicate balance between the orbital dynamics and the availability of the “ingredients” that form the planets. If the balance is broken, the planets that have managed to form in multi-star systems may face a sad fate: either disintegrate, if you are attracted to the stars that orbit around each other, or be expelled from system, and find yourself wandering for eternity in the darkness of the galaxy.