Planet formation occurs around a wide range of stellar masses and stellar system architectures1. An improved understanding of the formation process can be achieved by studying it across the full parameter space, particularly towards the extremes. Earlier studies of planets in close-in orbits around high-mass stars have revealed an increase in giant planet frequency with increasing stellar mass2 until a turnover point at 1.9 solar masses (M⊙), above which the frequency rapidly decreases3. This could potentially imply that planet formation is impeded around more massive stars, and that giant planets around stars exceeding 3 M⊙ may be rare or non-existent. However, the methods used to detect planets in small orbits are insensitive to planets in wide orbits. Here we demonstrate the existence of a planet at 560 times the Sun–Earth distance from the 6- to 10-M⊙ binary b Centauri through direct imaging. The planet-to-star mass ratio of 0.10–0.17% is similar to the Jupiter–Sun ratio, but the separation of the detected planet is about 100 times wider than that of Jupiter. Our results show that planets can reside in much more massive stellar systems than what would be expected from extrapolation of previous results. The planet is unlikely to have formed in situ through the conventional core accretion mechanism4, but might have formed elsewhere and arrived to its present location through dynamical interactions, or might have formed via gravitational instability.
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All the raw data used in this study are available at the European Southern Observatories archive (http://archive.eso.org/cms.html) under programme ID 1101.C-0258, by default after a proprietary time of 1 yr after each respective dataset was acquired, but earlier access can be provided upon reasonable request to the corresponding author. Processed data are available from the Data Center by following the instructions at https://sphere.osug.fr/spip.php?article74&lang=en.
Data were processed using recipes at the SPHERE Data Center. Access to the Data Center is available by following the instructions at https://sphere.osug.fr/spip.php?article47&lang=en.
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We thank M. Ireland for input regarding SUSI interferometry. The results presented here are based on observations collected at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere under ESO programme 1101.C-0258. The work has made use of the SPHERE Data Centre, jointly operated by OSUG/IPAG (Grenoble), PYTHEAS/LAM/CeSAM (Marseille), OCA/Lagrange (Nice), Observatoire de Paris/LESIA (Paris) and Observatoire de Lyon/CRAL, and supported by a grant from Labex OSUG@2020 (Investissements d’avenir – ANR10 LABX56). The study made use of CDS and NASA-ADS services. M.J. acknowledges support from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW). G.-D.M. acknowledges the support of the DFG priority programme SPP 1992 “Exploring the Diversity of Extrasolar Planets” (MA 9185/1-1) and from the Swiss National Science Foundation under grant BSSGI0_155816 “PlanetsInTime”. Parts of this work have been carried out within the framework of the NCCR PlanetS supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. A.V. acknowledges funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 757561). Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature thanks Katherine Follete and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.
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Extended data figures and tables
The image reduction is performed with classical angular differential imaging. The planet is denoted ‘b’ and the brighter of the background stars is denoted ‘bg’. The fainter background star cannot be easily seen at the contrast/saturation of this display, which is chosen to optimize visibility of other image elements.
The image shows the astrometric motion of the three point sources detected around b Cen, in the reference frame of b Cen itself. Squares show the locations of background star 1 at epochs 2019 (purple) and 2021 (blue). Circles show the locations of background star 2 at the same epochs. Diamonds show the locations of b Cen (AB)b, both at the 2019 and 2021 epochs, but also in the 2000 epoch (green) where it could additionally be retrieved. Gray tracks show a representative collection of orbits that fit the observed motion of b Cen (AB)b. The insets zoom in on the locations around background star 1 (upper left inset), background star 2 (upper right inset), and the confirmed planet b Cen (AB)b (lower left inset). The filled symbols are the measured locations, while the open symbols show the projected motion expected for a static background object (which would follow the dashed trajectories over time), where 2021 is chosen as the reference epoch.
Prior (in orange) and posterior (in blue) distributions for the full set of orbital parameters: Orbital period P, eccentricity e, inclination i, ascending node Ω, argument of periapsis ω, and time of periapsis Tp.
a, J2-J3 colour versus absolute J2 magnitude. b, K1-K2 colour versus absolute K1 magnitude. The planet b Cen (AB)b is plotted as a blue-green star, and follows the same colour trends as are generally observed for young planetary and substellar companions to stars, plotted as purple and black symbols with error bars. Symbols without error bars are young and field brown dwarfs.
Posterior probability distribution for the mass and initial entropy of b Cen (AB)b based on its brightness and age. The BEX-Cond models are used in this MCMC exploration, but the results are not very sensitive to the choice of the atmospheric model since the bolometric luminosity (and not a magnitude) is used. The red dotted (blue dashed) lines show for reference the approximate minimum and maximum of the hot-start (cold-start) planets in the Bern population synthesis81. A subset of the models is shown for plotting purposes.
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Janson, M., Gratton, R., Rodet, L. et al. A wide-orbit giant planet in the high-mass b Centauri binary system. Nature 600, 231–234 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04124-8