Published Friday September 16th, 2011
An astronomical discovery that would make Luke Skywalker homesick is making waves this week – a faraway planet with two suns.
This artist’s rendition is of Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars. The planet, in the foreground, was discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission.
A team of experts used the NASA Kepler space telescope to discover the planet, which orbits around two stars – similar to Tatooine, the fictional home of Skywalker in the Star Wars films.
In this case, however, the discovery doesn’t get the Hollywood treatment in terms of a name. Its name is the far more prosaic Kepler-16b.
Nick Gautier, Kepler project scientist with NASA, said although the planet would not support life, it would offer similar views that were seen in Stars Wars when Skywalker gazes out at his planet’s horizon and sees two setting suns.
“This is the first definitive detection of a circumbinary planet and is the best example we have a Tatooine-like world from Star Wars,” Gautier told a news conference Thursday. “We don’t expect Luke Skywalker or anything else to be living on Kepler-16b, but if you could visit there, you would see a sky with two suns just like Luke did.”
Laurance Doyle, the study’s lead author from the California-based SETI Institute, said the unique situation would offer stark differences to what people experience on Earth. Doyle hopes this breakthrough will lead to similar discoveries.