Science

Tatooine IRL: NASA Discovers Jupiter-Sized Planet Orbiting Two Suns

By Andrew Collins , Jun 15, 2016 04:40 AM EDT
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NASA discovered a Jupiter-sized planet within the Goldilocks zone of two suns; the planet's location and orbit spike fan boys' dreams of a Star War's Tatooine sunset.

NASA confirms the existence of the largest planet to ever orbit two suns, and it falls within the system's habitable zone. The planet is dubbed Kepler-1647b in the Cygnus constellation, 3,700 light years away.

Tatooine In Real Life

Kepler-1647b is 4.4 billion years old, almost as old as the Earth. Its suns are also about the same size as the Sun. Kepler-1647b is gaseous and is about the same in size as Jupiter.

Called "circumbinary planets," Kepler-1647b is the fourth of its kind to be discovered in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-16b, 34b and 35b were discovered in 2011 and 2012, but these were smaller than 1647b, and orbited much closer to their suns. These are all nicknamed "Tatooine planets," a reference to a an alien world in the Star Wars lore.

An Elusive Giant

Popular Mechanics reports Kepler-1647b is remarkable because it's the circumbinary planet with the largest orbit ever discovered, around three times that of the Earth's (one year lasts 1,017 days). Jerome Orosz, a co-author of the study, notes this is also the reason why scientists had difficulty confirming the planet's existence.

The planet was discovered in 2011 by co-author Laurance Doyle, but accurate measurements remained pending because of the planet's transit time. Amateur astronomers from Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope contributed with their own measurements to verify Kepler-1647b.

The planet is a gas giant, without conditions unlikely to support life. It's yet to be established if there are moons revolving around it, but scientists think if any moon discovered would fall the right spot in the solar system to support life.

William Welsh, co-author of the discovery, said Kepler-1647b is a contribution to the growing number of Tatooine planets. "Finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars. Habitability aside, Kepler-1647b is important because it is the tip of the iceberg of a theoretically predicted population of large, long-period circumbinary planets," Welsh said in an Independent report.

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