New ‘Tatooine’ Discovery Confirms Circumbinary Planets Aren’t Just Science Fiction
To the delight of “Star Wars” fans, a team of astronomers has spotted yet another “Tatooine.”
Much like the iconic desert planet from the movies, Kepler-453b is circumbinary, meaning it circles not one, but two separate stars.
(Picture a young Luke Skywalker gazing out at a double sunset.)
Nader Haghighipour, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii and a member of the discovery team, told The Huffington Post that this particular finding suggests that more Tatooine-type planets are out there just waiting to be discovered.
“For me, it’s personal,” he said. “For 20 years, I’ve been saying these things exist, and now we are discovering them.”
Due to its erratic obit — caused by the gravitational pull of two stars — Kepler-453 is visible to astronomers only 9 percent of the time. Had researches not detected the planet when they did, their next chance to do so would have been 2066.
“It’s amazing how fortunate we were in catching it at the right time,” Stephen Kane, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University and member of the team that made the discovery, said in a statement. “It’s a good reminder that there’s always a value in checking again.”
A recent study showed that it’s just as easy for an Earth-like planet to form around a binary star as it is to form around a single star like our sun. While Kepler-453b is located within its host stars’ “habitable zone,” the area where life could potentially exist, its size (it is 60 percent larger than Neptune) makes it unlikely it supports life.
Its moons, however, could be a different story.