Thursday, March 28, 2013

Astrophile: Snapshot of a two-faced Tatooine world

The binary system 2M0103, with its central pair of stars and mystery third object in orbit around them. This infrared image was produced by the Very Large Telescope at ESO-Paranal in Chile <i>(Image: ESO 2013)</i> 

Object: Massive planet or tiny failed star
Orbital partners: A close binary star system

Exoplanet hunters may have bagged the first direct picture of a planet with two suns. But the object, catchily dubbed 2MASS0103(AB)b, has a double life. It is so massive that it may also be a failed star with a relatively tight orbit around the central binary stars. Astronomers have not yet unravelled the truth. Deciding its identity could teach us more about how stars and planets form.

Philippe Delorme of the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, and colleagues took the picture in November last year using a telescope in Chile. Searches in the telescope's archives turned up data on the object's position in 2002 (marked in the picture by a green arrow), allowing them to trace its orbital motion around the binary stars.

Also known as Tatooines, after a fictional world in Star Wars, planets that orbit binary stars have only been found before through indirect methods. The new object orbits at a distance of about 12.5 billion kilometres, close enough to its stars to have been born from a disc of dust surrounding them, like a planet. But it is 12 to 14 times the mass of Jupiter, placing it near the dividing line between planets and failed stars called brown dwarfs.

For the rest of the story: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23310-astrophile-snapshot-of-a-twofaced-tatooine-world.html

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