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Possible New Title: Binary Planet: Discovery of a Shared Orbit Between Two Distant Worlds

Image of the planetary system PDS
The planetary system PDS features a star at its center, orbited by the planet PDS 70b and a cloud of debris. Further out, there is another planet, PDS 70c, on the inner edge of a planet-forming circumstellar disc.

Shared Orbit in a Star System

In a star system located around 400 light years away, a fascinating phenomenon has been observed. It appears that a still-forming planet is sharing its orbit with an existing gas giant. This would be the first known instance of two planets sharing an orbit.

While the presence of small asteroids co-orbiting with larger planets like Jupiter is well-documented, these are believed to have been captured by gravitational fields. The discovery of two planets in a shared orbit raises the possibility of trojans, or co-orbiting asteroids, forming in place.

Glimpsing the Shared Orbit

Álvaro Ribas and his colleagues from the University of Cambridge used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to investigate PDS 70b’s Lagrangian points — gravitationally stable points where trojan bodies may exist. They identified a dust cloud in a similar orbit as PDS 70b, potentially indicating the formation of a planet or remnants of a planet.

This dust, composed of centimeter-sized rocks, is believed to be primordial and formed alongside PDS 70b. The presence of such material in the Lagrangian point is not observed in our own solar system.

Confirmation and Future Studies

While the current data provides a snapshot of the suspected second planet, further confirmation of its orbit will require follow-up observations in February 2026. To learn more about its composition, an upgrade to ALMA in 2030 may be necessary.

This raises the question of whether this object fits the definition of a planet. According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a planet must be the dominant mass in its gravitational region. However, the IAU’s definition mainly applies to planets within our solar system, leaving the status of this potential planet in a gray area.

Conclusion

The discovery of a shared orbit between two planets in a distant star system opens up new possibilities for understanding the formation of trojans and the dynamics of planetary systems. Further research and observations are required to fully confirm and characterize this intriguing binary planet.

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