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Rare planet circles just one of a pair of stars

Odd trio may help astronomers test ideas about planet formation

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8:53pm, July 3, 2014

THREE’S A CROWD  A frozen, rocky planet orbits one of a pair of faint red stars (center and right), roughly 3,300 light-years away, as seen in an artist’s illustration. 

Astronomers have discovered a frozen, rocky planet orbiting one of a pair of faint red stars. Researchers reported the discovery in the July 4 Science.

It’s not the first planet found orbiting one star in a binary, but it is the first to be discovered with microlensing, the temporary brightening of light from a more distant star. This stellar pair is also much more compact than most other binary systems with planets. And it’s the first planet-hosting binary where both stars are M dwarfs, which make up roughly three-quarters of the stars in the galaxy.

Since roughly half of sunlike stars are part of a pair, such duos are a potentially fertile ground for planet hunters. Planets that orbit binary stars can also help astronomers understand how planets form in unusual environments.

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