Can a planet have three suns? In March 2016, astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discovered a Jupiter-sized hot planet orbiting three stars. The system is 680 light-years away from us.

On March 17, 1941, John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, asked Isaac Asimov that: “What, if people see the stars once in a thousand of years?” Campbell has had read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature” and Emerson was saying in the first chapter that “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!”

Campbell wanted Asimov to read that quote, and asked him the question above, “What if people see the stars once in a thousand years?” Asimov said, “I don’t know…” Campbell said: “I think men would go mad.” And he added: “Now, go and write a story about that.”

They discussed the matter for a while. Campbell tried to strengthen his idea. Sometimes he asked questions like “What could be the reason that the stars cannot be seen in the other times?” And he listened to the answers Asimov trying to produce. Then, he said, “go home, and write this damned story, with one way or another”.

Asimov wrote the story and named it “Nightfall”. It was published in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and quickly became the most successful story of the young Asimov. In 1968, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted “Nightfall” the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

Nightfall cover, Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg
The cover of “Nightfall”

In 1990, prolific American science-fiction writer Robert Silverberg wrote a novel with the same name, based on Asimov’s story. Asimov wrote: “…Eventually, I received the extended Nightfall manuscript from Bob (Silverberg)… Bob did a wonderful job and I could almost believe I had written the whole thing myself. He remained absolutely faithful to the original story and I had very little to argue with.”

In the story, there’s a fictional planet Lagash (Kalgash in the novel adaptation) is located in a stellar system containing six suns. The primary sun Kalgash and is Onos, which is located 10 light minutes away, similar to the distance from Earth to our Sun (8 light minutes). The other five suns are minor in comparison, but provide enough light to prevent the inhabitants of Kalgash from defining “night”. So, since the current population of the planet has never experienced general darkness, they never see the other stars in the sky, and they believe their six-star system contained the entirety of the universe.

But the scientists on the Kalgash discover that once in every 2049 years, all the planet’s suns are eclipsed, resulting in a brief “night”. In one horrifying instant, anyone gazing at the night sky – the first dark night sky which they have ever known – is suddenly faced with the reality that the universe contains many billions upon billions of stars.

A hot Jupiter with three suns

A planet with three suns
A planet with three suns. Photo:

It’s really possible that a planet with more than one star: in March 2016, Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discovered a Jupiter-sized hot planet orbiting three stars. The system is 680 light-years away from us. In fact, this is the fourth discovery ever of a triple-star system with a planet. So, maybe, this rare phenomenon is more common than we think.

The planet was discovered by the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT). Since it is the fourth planet found in such a system, the system is named KELT-4 and the planet KELT-4Ab. KELT-4A is the brightest host star of the planet. KELT-4BC is a binary star system subcomponent of the triple.

In fact, the chances of these multi-star places being habitable are relatively low, but you never know – maybe somebody out there seeing the stars once in a thousand years.

John W. Campbell

John W. Campbell
John Wood Campbell Jr. (June 8, 1910 – July 11, 1971). Photo:

John Wood Campbell Jr. (June 8, 1910 – July 11, 1971) was an American science fiction writer and editor. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from late 1937 until his death, he is generally credited with shaping the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Isaac Asimov called Campbell “the most powerful force in science fiction ever, and for the first ten years of his editorship he dominated the field completely.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Nature”

Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1857
Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1857

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.

In “Nature”, Emerson put forth the foundation of transcendentalism, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and suggests that reality can be understood by studying nature. Emerson’s visit to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris inspired a set of lectures he later delivered in Boston which were then published.

Within the essay, Emerson divides nature into four usages: Commodity, Beauty, Language, and Discipline. These distinctions define the ways by which humans use nature for their basic needs, their desire for delight, their communication with one another, and their understanding of the world. Emerson followed the success of “Nature” with a speech, “The American Scholar”, which together with his previous lectures laid the foundation for transcendentalism and his literary career.


M. Özgür Nevres

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.