The exoplanet orbits an unprecedentedly massive stellar pair

(ORDO NEWS) — The ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured a picture of a planet orbiting the Beta Centauri system, a two-star system that can be seen in the sky with the naked eye. It is the hottest and most massive star system in which planets have been discovered so far, and the planet orbits its parent star at a distance of 100 times the radius of Jupiter’s orbit.

Some astronomers believed that planets could not be in systems of such massive stars – until now.

“The discovery of a planet around Beta Centauri has been quite emotional for us as it completely changes the way planetary systems around massive stars work,” explained Markus Janson, an astronomer at Stockholm University, Sweden, and lead author of the new work.

Located about 325 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Centauri, the Beta Centauri binary system has a mass of at least six solar masses, making it one of the most massive systems within which planets have been discovered and confirmed to date. Until now, no planets have ever been found in systems around a star with a mass exceeding three solar masses.

The most massive stars are also very hot, and this system is no exception: the main component of the system belongs to the so-called spectral type B – stars, the mass of which is more than three times the mass of our star. In particular, the hotter a star is, the more high-energy radiation it emits, which leads to faster evaporation of the material surrounding the star. Due to the high temperature, the parent star of the newly discovered planet emits very intensely in the ultraviolet and X-ray ranges.

Usually, in systems around massive and hot stars such as B-type stars, scientists do not expect to encounter planets because the conditions in such systems are too harsh. However, this unusual planet, dubbed Beta Centauri b, is itself also extreme. This planet, which has a mass of about 10 Jupiter masses, moves around the widest star system known to scientists, at a distance of about 100 radii of the orbit of Jupiter’s circumsolar orbit. The huge distance to the star pair was the key to the planet’s “survival”, astronomers have found.

The research is published in the journal Nature.


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