Astronomy and Space

NASA Finds a Planet that Exists in a Triple-Star System

A candidate planet called the KOI-5Ab has been spotted by NASA’s Kepler mission shortly after it has begun its operations back in 2009, however it was set aside as Kepler discovered more and more planets. Kepler has discovered 2,394 exoplanets and an additional 2,366 exoplanet candidates by the end of its operations in 2018.

Thus, David Ciardi, the chief scientist of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute, has admitted that KOI-5Ab has been abandoned and has even been forgotten.

“KOI-5Ab got abandoned because it was complicated, and we had thousands of candidates. There were easier pickings than KOI-5Ab, and we were learning something new from Kepler every day so that KOI-5 was mostly forgotten,” stated Ciardi.

However, in 2018, NASA’s second planet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) came along.

Just like Kepler, TESS looks for the blinking of starlight that comes when a planet crosses in front of, or transits, a star; and it observed part of Kepler’s field of view which includes the KOI-5 system. The second planet-hunting mission also identified KOI-5Ab as a candidate planet.

“I thought to myself, ‘I remember this target, but we still couldn’t determine definitively if the planet was real or if the blip in the data came from another star in the system – it could have been a fourth star,” the chief scientist of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said after seeing the data from TESS.

Ciardi went back to all the data, teamed up with other scientists, and has finally confirmed that KOI-5Ab truly exists and that it is indeed a planet orbiting the primary star. Ciardi stated that he has “resurrected KOI-5Ab from the dead.”

Illustration showing the planet KOI-5Ab transiting across the face of a Sun-like star, which is part of a triple-star system

Source: NASA

The Planet KOI-5Ab

The planet KOI-5Ab about half the size of Saturn and it orbits a star in a system with two other companion stars.

“KOI-5Ab orbits Star A, which has a relatively close companion, Star B. Star A and Star B orbit each other every 30 years. A third gravitationally bound star, Star C, orbits stars A and B every 400 years,” NASA further explained.

It was also revealed through a combined data set that the orbital plane of KOI-5Ab is not aligned with the orbital plane of Star B. “We don’t know of many planets that exist in triple-star systems, and this one is extra special because its orbit is skewed,” revealed Ciardi.

Though uncertain of what might have caused the misalignment, it is believed by the astronomers that the planet has been gravitationally kicked by the second star during its development, thus explaining its skewed orbit.

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Source: NASA

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