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The Kepler space telescope has found a new, fun discovery that promises years of great Star Wars jokes. Kepler-16b is a planet that represents a type of system we've never seen before—at least, in the real world. Two hundred light years away, this Saturn-size ball of rock and gas is orbiting two stars at once. Yes, just like Tatooine.
Only, not really. Because Kepler 16b's stars are a bit on the dim side. Here's how Phil Plait explains it:
And while there are two stars involved in heating the planet, their light is pretty feeble. Even at its distance of a little over 100 million kilometers (65 million miles) from the pair — roughly the same distance at which Venus orbits the Sun — Kepler-16b is cold: the temperature at its cloud tops (assuming it’s a gas giant like Saturn) would be at best -70°C (-100°F).
So any visions you have of Luke Skywalker standing in the desert with his leg resting on a rock while he wistfully watches the two suns set in the west may have to wait. Even if the planet has a big moon (which these observations cannot yet detect) conditions there would be a bit chillier than on Tatooine. More like Hoth.
The video above is a stream of the Kepler 16b press conference. You can also find that video online at this link.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.