Three hundred and twenty light years away in the Centaurus constellation sits one of the strangest planets humans have ever laid eyes on. It’s four times as massive as Jupiter and orbits twice as far out as Pluto—around one of its three suns.
Using a new instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, a team of astronomers has spotted a planet in an exotic triple star system; it’s only the second such exoplanet known to science. And unlike the first triple-star exoplanet—which orbits very close to one star and very far from the other two—planet HD 131399Ab is gravitationally influenced by all three suns. Until now, astronomers weren’t sure such a planet could survive.
“I’d venture to say this is the weirdest orbit of any exoplanet we’ve ever found,” Kevin Wagner, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and lead author on the study published in today’s Science, told Gizmodo. “We know of no other planet in a configuration like this.”