The team behind the discovery of the three-star planet withdraws its article

This graph shows the orbit of the planet in the HD 131399 system (red line) and the orbits of stars (blue lines). Credit: ESO

An international team of researchers who published an article in the journal Science in 2016 describing their discovery of a three-star exoplanet, has now retracted that article.

In their original paper, the team described their work with direct imaging technology to study the triple star system HD 131399. They spotted what they believed to be an exoplanet about four times the size of Jupiter. They also noted its seemingly odd orbital system – the planet appeared to orbit only one of the stars while the other two stars were further apart.

After the paper was published, in 2017 another international team of researchers found evidence to suggest the planet wasn’t a planet after all – data seen the previous year they believe came from an object background, possibly a dwarf star. They further noted in their article published in The Astronomical Journalthat the object was much more likely to be something moving at unusual speed in the background in a path that coincided with star system HD 131399.

This discovery led the original team to revisit their previous work and then observe star system HD 131399 over a long period of time. This allowed them to capture images of the star system in motion. They found “a distinct parallax difference between the object and HD 131399” – confirmation that the light from what they had thought in 2016 was a planet was actually coming from much further away than the light from stars in the system – ruling out the possibility that the light came from a planet of this system. It was most certainly in place of something much further in the distant background.

The researchers suggested to members of the press that their work highlights the risk of making assumptions about stationary backgrounds in star systems, and that they hope their experiment will help improve astronomy. All authors of the original article have agreed to have their article retracted.

Exoplanet HD 131399 Ab turns out to be a background star, new study finds

More information:
Kevin Wagner et al, Retraction, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abq1709

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