Alpha Centauri Could Have a Super Jupiter in Orbit

The Three-Body Problem is a complex challenge in celestial mechanics, particularly the unpredictable movements of three gravitating bodies due to instability. An instance of this problem is a planet orbiting two stars, often referred to as a restricted three-body problem, where stable orbits for the planet may be possible.

A recent study, titled “Stability of the Potential Super Jupiter in Alpha Centauri System,” suggests that the close binary star system Alpha Centauri AB could potentially host a Super Jupiter in a stable orbit. The study, authored by Tinglong Feng, an undergraduate student at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, explores the possibility of a giant planet following an orbit in the Alpha Centauri AB system.

Previous studies have focused on understanding the stability of exoplanets in systems similar to Alpha Centauri. In this case, Alpha Centauri A and B are Sun-like stars, with A being slightly more massive, and B being slightly less massive. This research compares the Alpha Centauri AB system with another binary pair, GJ65AB (Gliese 65), known to host a Neptune-mass exoplanet.

While the Gliese 65 system consists of M-dwarf stars, the comparison is valuable because of the similar mass ratios and orbital eccentricities between the two systems. By performing simulations using the Mean Exponential Growth factor of Nearby Orbits (MEGNO) method, the study demonstrates that the newly discovered Neptune-mass planet in the Gliese 65 system should be stable.

The research further explores the possibility of a stable Super Jupiter orbit in the Alpha Centauri AB system. Using the MEGNO method, Feng found a stable zone for a 350 Earth-mass planet with semi-major axis between 0.1 and 2.2 AU and eccentricity less than 0.5. This stable zone suggests that the existence of a potential Jupiter-mass planet with specific orbital parameters in the Alpha Centauri AB system should also be possible.

It’s important to note that the presence of such a planet has not been confirmed, as none have been detected in the system as of yet. However, the study showcases the potential for a stable orbit for a Super Jupiter in Alpha Centauri AB, providing motivation for ongoing research and future planet-hunting missions in the region.

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