In Star Wars, the planet Tatooine may have an impressive sunset thanks to its two suns but there's a real planet roughly 1800 light-years from Earth that can do Luke Skywalker's homeworld one better. Researchers have discovered a planet with not only three suns, but an odd orbit as well. The planet, KOI-5Ab was first spotted by NASA's Kepler mission in 2009 but wasn't given much attention at that time. The Kepler mission, which ended in 2018, ultimately discovered 2394 exoplanets -- planets orbiting stars beyond our sun -- as well as 2366 exoplanet candidates.
"KOI-5Ab got abandoned because it was complicated and we had thousands of candidates," chief scientist of NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute David Ciardi said in a statement (via DigitalTrends). "There were easier pickings than KOI-5AB, and we were learning something new from Kepler every day so that KOI-5 was mostly forgotten."
However, new observations from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) revived interest in the planet and offered new details, confirming that KOI-5Ab is, indeed, a real planet, and one with some unusual details.
The planet is most likely a gas giant planet similar to Jupiter or Saturn given its size and it orbits in a star system with two other companion stars with the planet itself moving on a plane out of alignment with at least one of the stars -- something that makes an already rare planet even more unusual.
“We don’t know of many planets that exist in triple-star systems, and this one is extra special because its orbit is skewed,” said Ciardi. “We still have a lot of questions about how and when planets can form in multiple-star systems and how their properties compare to planets in single-star systems. By studying this system in greater detail, perhaps we can gain insight into how the universe makes planets."
"This research emphasizes the importance of NASA's full fleet of space telescopes and their synergy with ground-based systems," project scientist for the Kepler space telescope at NASA's Ames Research Center Jessie Dotson said. "Discoveries like this one can be a long haul."
What do you think about this triple-sun planet? Let us know in the comments.