GW Ori is a star system 1,300 light years from Earth in the constellation of Orion.

It is surrounded by a huge disk of dust and gas, a common feature of young star systems that are forming planets. But it is a system with not one star, but three.

As if that were not intriguing enough, GW Ori's disk is split in two.

Some scientists have suggested that the gap in the disk could be caused by the forming of one or more planets in the system. If so, this would be the first known planet that orbits three stars at once - also known as a circumtriple planet.

Now the GW Ori system has been modeled in greater detail, and researchers say a planet is indeed the best explanation for a gap in the dust cloud. Although the planet itself cannot be seen, what astronomers can see may be its carving out of an orbit in its first million years of existence.

In a new paper on the finding, scientists say the research disproves an alternate explanation - that the gravitational torque of the stars cleared the space in the disk.

Their paper suggests that there is not enough turbulence in the disk for this explanation to suffice.

If a familiar life form could dwell on a gas giant like the one that would be orbiting GW Ori, it would not actually be able to see the three stars in its skies.

Inhabitants would see only a pair, because the two innermost stars orbit so close together that they would look like a single point of light.

But as the planet rotated, its stars would rise and fall in fascinating sunrises and sunsets unlike those on any other known world. [Jonathan O'Callaghan]


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