PH1 : A planet in a four-star system

A family portrait of the PH1 planetary system: The newly discovered planet is depicted in this artist's rendition transiting the larger of the two eclipsing stars it orbits. Off in the distance, well beyond the planet orbit, resides a second pair of stars bound to the planetary system. Image Credit: Haven Giguere/Yale.

Image credit: Haven Giguere/Yale

Today we’re pleased to announce the discovery of the first confirmed planet discovered by Planet Hunters, and it’s a fabulous and unusual world. Labelled ‘Planet Hunters 1’ (or PH1) in a paper released today and submitted to the Astrophysical Journal, it is the first planet in a four-star system. It is a circumbinary planet – one which orbits a double star – and our follow-up observations indicate that there is a second pair of stars approximately 90 billion miles (1000 Astronomical Units) away which are gravitationally bound to the system.

This is much closer than the nearest stars are to the Sun, so anyone viewing the sky from PH1 would have a spectacular view of all four stars. More importantly, this amazing system will help us understand how and where planets can form – producing a stable planet in a system where four different stars are moving about can’t be easy. This is the seventh circumbinary planet, and the first to be in a quadruple system.

The planet itself has a radius a little more than 6 times that of Earth, making it a little bigger than Neptune. It’s mass is harder to pin down (and being in such a complicated system didn’t help), but we have a definite limit that means it must be no more than half that of Jupiter – so this is definitely a planet.

A huge amount of work went into this discovery (as well as a fair bit of observing time on the Keck and other telescopes), but a lot of the credit should be pointed at the Planet Hunters who made the discovery. It was Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano, working together on Talk that made the initial discovery; there’s a post from them on exactly what happened up already. The paper also credits Hans Martin Schwengeler, Dr. Johann Sejpka, and Arvin Joseff Tan all of whom flagged one or more of the transits before the paper was published! This is great news for us and we’re sure there are more planets hiding in data, both at the main interface and over on Talk. For today, though, we can celebrate the arrival of Planet Hunters 1!


PS We’ve announced discoveries before, of course – as well as being the first four-star planetary system, this is the first where we’ve been able to obtain not only transit information but follow up with radial velocity measurements, detecting the wobbles of the parent stars as well as the dips in light seen when the planet moves in front of them. This is the gold standard for planet discovery, and so this is officially a planet, not just a planet candidate.

PPS The paper, of course, still has to be refereed. We’ll keep you updated here as that process goes on, but as Meg is presenting the details of the system at the annual Division of Planetary Sciences meeting right now we thought you’d want to know the news as soon as possible. There will be more posts about exactly how PH1 was tracked down later in the week, so watch this space. In the meantime, you might prefer version of the paper, which has been annotated with the ScienceWISE tool in order to help explain some of the more technical language.

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