I have a mathematician friend who believes that anything that it is mathematically possible exists somewhere in the multiverse. She believes that there are some features that are so beautiful, that it would be a crime if they were simply quirks of the Universal language. I try to keep a more detached approached, as many physicists get carried away by the beauty of the theories compared to the murky muddiness of reality. Today is one of those days where it is difficult.
Eugene Oks, who works at the Auburn University in Alabama as a theoretical physicist, has envisioned a new type of planetary orbit in binary systems. Instead of being confined to a single plane of motion following Kepler’s law of motion (which is a derivation of general relativity), in a two-star system, Oks envision a planet in a stable conic-helical orbit trap between the two stars.
As you can see in the artist impression, the hypothetical planet follows a corkscrew orbit around the axis between the two stars. In the middle, the trajectory is wide where the planet quickly moves around the helix, and then it reaches one of the extremities where it slows down until it moves back towards the other star. The orbit is perfectly stable, so it is possible that a planet out there has this loopy orbit.
But is it probable? We think that between 50% and 80% of all the stars are in binaries, and with the Milky Way having about 100 Billion stars is definitely possible, but on ‘probable’ the jury is still very much out.
The universe is infinite, so I’m sure that there are planets out there on such orbits, but until we can work out mechanisms for planetary accretion or capture in such an orbit, this will remain a beautiful but unlikely feature of our cosmos.
E. Oks 2015 ApJ 804 106 doi:10.1088/0004-637X/804/2/106