Space

As in “Interstellar”: ESO’s Very Large Telescope photographed a huge something in the constellation of Orion

The anomaly has not yet received an official name, but it already casts doubt on most of the data obtained on other worlds over the years.

As of January 29, 2022,  the  existence of 4908 exoplanets, that is, planets located outside the solar system , has been confirmed. Another 8,459 are awaiting confirmation, of which 2,236 are candidates from the Kepler project. But scientists aren’t just chasing numbers. Firstly, they are studying the phenomenon of frightening planets with three suns, and secondly, the most advanced Webb telescope and the upcoming Plato mission are ready to make revolutionary discoveries in the field of universal evolution.

The history of the discovery of exoplanets is relatively young. Since the time of Giordano Bruno, astronomers have speculated that such planets might exist. But the first extrasolar planet was discovered only in 1988, and its existence was confirmed four years later. 

From that moment a systematic search for such planets began. This has become possible since the introduction of the Doppler method. Roughly speaking, it consists in observing the properties of a star. If they are mobile, if the star “wobbles”, then there is an exoplanet near it. 

In addition, until the end of the 80s, scientists underestimated the role of telescopes in this matter, a very scanty telescope time was allocated to search for such systems.

The advent of powerful telescopic systems changed everything. These devices help, for example, to catch the shadow a planet casts on a star. But the veil of the earth’s atmosphere interfered with the search for a long time, so it was decided to send telescopes into space, and after this step, the Universe opened up before humanity in the entire color spectrum of its magnificence. 

Hubble, Kepler, the VLT (Very Large Telescope), ALMA, and the latest tennis-court-sized telescope, the Webb Telescope, entered the stage of history.

“Eyes” of long-departed Voyager

With the launch of the Kepler space observatory, a breakthrough occurred in the search for exoplanets: in ten years, scientists discovered more than 2,600 exoplanets, and also suggested that such a planet or planetary system could be near every third star. 

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If it all came down to finding, fixing, classifying, and ultimately collecting exoplanets, it wouldn’t be interesting. But today it is the most promising area of ​​space research, so for some reason it is needed. 

What for? First, to answer the questions “Are we alone in the universe?” and “Is the Earth an anomaly, something unique and inimitable, or has analogues?”

Space probe Voyager. Photo ©  Wikipedia

The more planetary systems are discovered, the more opportunities there will be to compare them with the solar system and planet Earth. While the Kepler mission expanded the human horizons, according to its developer Jesse Dotson, we are now forced “to look at the starry sky in a new way.” A reason was also presented to believe that the Earth is an anomaly, but it is precisely because of this that life on this planet is possible. 

Meanwhile, the discoveries of exoplanets arrived, which were copies of the Earth, one of them was called Earth 2.0 (Gliese 832 C in the constellation of the Crane). Each new discovery has rapidly changed and is changing the angle of view on the question.

Mysterious space movies

There is a legend about three suns. According to the legend, the Earth was once liquid, but three suns shone above it. Due to the intense heat, moisture began to evaporate, and the Earth began to harden. Because of the unbearable heat, life could not originate here, and then a deity shot two suns with a bow. The origin of the legend was associated with an optical illusion. 

In the 1977 blockbuster Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope, there is a scene where the viewer is shown a double sunset on the planet Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker is from. Recent discoveries of unique binary and trinitarian solar systems make ancient legends and Hollywood science fiction less skeptical. In 2010, NN Serpentis was recorded with two stars – the White Dwarf and the Red Dwarf, as well as with two exoplanets.

Artistic rendering of NASA’s Kepler space telescope. Photo © NASA

And in 2012, the double star Kepler-47 with two exoplanets – inner and outer, which, in turn, was a gas giant, came into the view of astrophysicists. 

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In 2019, astrophysicists confirmed the existence of another exoplanet in this system. A binary star system with three planets is impressive and according to one version, in the course of evolution, a binary star simply captures a planet from an alien system due to a larger interaction cross section.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

But the real sensation was made by the discovery of three-star systems. In them, as it became known to scientists, stars are formed due to gravitational collapse and give rise to exoplanets with an unusual inclination of orbits. 

Here one could observe firsthand that the birth of something is associated with destruction. In the case of the trinitarian system, protoplanetary disks were destroyed in the process of the birth of new planets. This was all seen in the VLT, and the ALMA telescope made it possible to pay close attention to the protoplanetary disks themselves. 

“Quiet harbors”, or orbital levels, where “infinitely small planets”, or planetesimals, were noticed in them, and they, like a child in the womb, rapidly gained mass inside these “harbours”. 

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The first assumption: the Earth could originate in one of these “safe havens”. Scientists assumed that the Earth itself used to be part of a binary, if not trinitarian system, which is an interesting prospect.

Image of a star-forming region. Photo © NASA

Observation by scientists in the ALMA telescope of a number of stars, including binary and triple ones, led to a sensation in 2016 – many of them contain methanol, sugar, amino acids and other building materials that play a role in the formation of organic matter. “Bricks of life” are formed even before the formation of protoplanets. Space has long been cold and lifeless, a little more – and the universal brothers of the solar system will be found.

You need to take a deep breath and then exhale before drawing any conclusions. But it is tentatively clear that binary and trinitarian systems are dynamic and also potentially ready to act as an incubator for the formation of life. 

Perhaps, at the stage of planet formation, conditions prevail there that do not allow life to fully mature, and then a legendary figure should appear in order to “finish off” the factors that have ceased to be creative. 

Given the complexity of the task – to form a stable system with planets, and to preserve life on it, “something goes wrong” at a certain stage when creating conditions for further evolution, which proves the instability and unviability of systems “with three suns” – planets do not have stable orbits, desynchronization leads to chaos and death of systems. 

Great curiosity, but not viable. That was the case until recently.

Lunar new year and three days of rain

In 2018, Live Science published data on a new discovery – the trinitarian LTT 1445Ab system, around which several thousand potential planets and tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of different moons orbit. The surface temperature there is 155 degrees Celsius, just like in the legend of the three suns.

GW Orionis in the constellation of Orion (yellow circle). Photo ©  Wikipedia

Following her, thanks to the giant VLT telescope, astronomers discovered GW Orionis 1300 light-years from Earth. Two stars are fixed in a rigid orbit, and the third revolves around them. The ALMA telescope has detected the instability of this system. So, three dust rings of the system are not synchronized with each other, and the third one strongly fluctuates in its orbit. 

What are fluctuations showing us? About the presence of an exoplanet. With the help of 3D modeling, astrophysicists “twisted” the hypothesis and came to the conclusion that an exoplanet the size of Jupiter revolves around the suns, on which “rains of unknown origin” can go on for several days. But, even if you turn on fantasy and imagine an observer standing there and looking at three suns, one has to admit: he will see two merged suns (due to the narrowness of the orbits) and another one revolving around this “illusory-optical tandem”. Plus a very strange gap.

“There is a certain gap between the stars and the hypothetical exoplanet most likely destroyed the disk of the protoplanet. Our head is already spinning from everything that has fallen on us,” astronomer Jeremy Smallwood from the University of Nevada said

He added that the disk rupture in GW Orion is most likely caused by undetected planets. How many of them are actually there remains to be seen.

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