There are a lot of planets out there. And a lot of really weird ones.
But NASA's latest discovery is one of the strangest yet.
The space agency has announced that it has located a planet which is currently orbiting around an arrangement of four separate suns.
The planet in the star system 30 Ari was “reared” in a family of four different stars, NASA said, about 136 light years from Earth.
Discovered at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego using the Robo-AO system, the planet is only the second to ever be found with so many stars in its neighbourhood. (The first was KIC 4862625, found by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2013).
In the 30 Ari system, the planet orbits a star known as 30 Ari B, along with another star which rotates around the same point. This mini system itself orbits a point in space between itself and another double star system — adding up to four stars, with at least one planet.
However the final two of those stars are likely to be fairly dim -- they are usually about 1,670 times farther away from the planet than Earth is from the Sun.
The study suggests that such systems might not even be very rare.
"Star systems come in myriad forms. There can be single stars, binary stars, triple stars, even quintuple star systems," said Lewis Roberts of JPL, lead author of the new findings appearing in the journal Astronomical Journal. "It’s amazing the way nature puts these things together."
Indeed it was recently announced that our own star system played host to a visiting ‘second sun’ as recently as 70,000 years ago.
"About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving," said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.