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article image'Citizen Astronomers' discover planet, PH1, with four-star system

By Andrew Moran     Oct 15, 2012 in Science
Washington - A group of so-called "Armchair Astronomers" from the website Planet Hunters has discovered a planet that maintains four stars. The planet has been called PH1 and is the first known to have four suns.
Digital Journal has reported in the past of discoveries of Tatooine-like distant planets that orbit one pair of stars, but the latest discovery made by “citizen scientists” is a unique one and the first of its kind.
The rare finding of the planet that orbits a binary star system and is orbited by a second pair of stars was announced Friday. PH1 was found by two American volunteers, Kian Jek of San Francisco and Robert Gagliano of Arizona.
A team of professional astronomers later verified the discovery using the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
“Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said astronomer and Planet Hunters scientist Meg Schwamb at an annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Reno, Nevada on Monday, reports Universe Today. “The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments.”
It was given the name after the Planet Hunters website. It is located less than 5,000 light-years away and is considered to be a gas giant that is a little larger than Neptune and more than six times the size of Earth. Astronomers believe PH1 is dense and half the diameter of Jupiter. It revolves around its host stars approximately 138 days.
The armchair astronomers noticed faint dips in light due to the planet passing the front of its parent stars, which is a method that most scientists utilize to detect extrasolar planets.
Right now, there are only six known planets that orbit two stars, but there are no other ones to be accompanied by a second binary star system.
“It still continues to astonish me how we can detect, let alone glean so much information, about another planet thousands of light years away just by studying the light from its parent star,” said Jek in an interview with the science publication.
More about Planet, four stars, PH1, Planet Hunters, Tatooine
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