NASA Ames scientists have for the first time confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting two stars, like the fictional planet Tatooine in Star Wars, officials said this week.
The circumbinary planet–believed to be an inhospitable, cold world about the size of Saturn–has been dubbed Kepler-16b. It was spotted by the Kepler space telescope about 200 light years from Earth in a system known as Kepler 16, NASA officials said Thursday from Mountain View.
Kepler-16b, which is thought to be roughly half rock and half gas,
was detected by a research team led by Lawrence Doyle of the in Mountain View.
The team detected regular eclipses in the Kepler 16 system that
had to be caused by a third body, and determined that body to be orbiting both stars. Further analysis of the gravitational tugs on the system's stars helped researchers determine the planet's size.
The planet lies outside the system's "habitable zone," where
liquid water could exist on the surface. However, scientists said the
discovery could help increase the chances of finding extraterrestrial life by increasing the number of possible locations.
"This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that
could harbor life," Kepler principal investigator William Borucki said. "Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now."
"Working in film, we often are tasked with creating something
never before seen," said visual effects supervisor John Knolll of Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd. in San Francisco. "However, more often than not, scientific discoveries prove to be more spectacular than anything we dare imagine."
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