Science fiction becomes reality
United States astronomers say they have discovered the first planet that is orbiting two suns, much like the fictional home of Luke Skywalker featured in Star Wars.
Skywalker’s native planet of Tatooine was hot and desert-like, but this planet, called Kepler-16b, is a freezing cold world about the size of Saturn, orbiting two parent suns in a near perfect circle about 200 light years away.
The planet was glimpsed with the US space agency’s Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars, according to the research published in the journal Science.
”This discovery is stunning,” said co-author Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution for Science Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. ”What used to be science fiction has turned into reality.”
While astronomers have previously glimpsed planets they believed were orbiting two stars, they had never seen one passing in front of its two suns. ”Kepler-16b is the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet – a planet orbiting not one, but two stars,” said co-author Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.
”We’re finding that our solar system is only one example of the variety of planetary systems nature can create.”
If there were people on Kepler-16b, they could relax to the view of a double sunset, but such a scenario is highly unlikely due to the planet’s extreme frigid surface temperature of minus 73 to minus 101 degrees.
The chill is probably due to the fact that even though the planet has two suns, which it orbits every 229 days, they are smaller and cooler than our single sun.
The study was led by Kepler scientist Laurance Doyle, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute.