Posted by Marcia Dunn, Associated Press
Published: July 19, 2023 / 1:46 pm EDT
Updated: July 19, 2023 / 1:46 pm EDT
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (FloridaToday.news) — Astronomers reported Wednesday the discovery of what could be two planets sharing the same orbit around their star.
They said it was the strongest evidence for this strange cosmic pairing, long suspected but never proven.
Using a telescope in Chile, the Spanish-led team spotted a cloud of debris in the same orbit as an already confirmed planet orbiting this star 370 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. They suspect that it is either a forming planet or the remains of a planet that once existed.
Asteroids are known to accompany planets around their star, such as Jupiter and its so-called Trojan asteroids. But planets in the same orbit “have looked like unicorns so far,” notes study co-author Jorge Lillo-Box of the Madrid Center for Astrobiology.
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“Theoretically, they are allowed to exist, but no one has ever discovered them,” the statement said.
Scientists have said they will need to wait until 2026 to properly track the two objects around a star known as PDS 70.
A confirmed planet with a suspected Tagalong takes 119 years to circle. A gas giant, it is three times the size of Jupiter. Another gas giant is known to orbit this star, albeit from a much greater distance.
Lead author Olga Balsalobre-Ruza of the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid said the results, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, are “the first evidence” that such double worlds can exist.
“We can imagine that a planet can share its orbit with thousands of asteroids, as in the case of Jupiter, but it amazes me that planets can share the same orbit,” she said in a statement.