Two stars, one planet

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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.


    1. let me apologise in advance for this: another galaxy is by default, far, far away. this star is within our galaxy and only a mere 200 light years away.

      oh god, what have i become??

  1. A moon might not be all that cold… geothermal heating as is observed on Titan and Io could stir things up a bit.

    What they didn’t get into in the bit of the conference I watched was the place of these types of stars in the main sequence.  Is it likely that they are of a generation that would have heavier elements in the surrounding debris, or not?

  2. You know what would be totally awesome?  This planet doing figure eights, swinging by each star at opposite points of its’ orbit, like a spirograph!

  3. It may be said that we stand on the shoulders of giants, seeing farther than they, applying rule 34, saving Star Alliance points for 200 light-year round trip voyages to high-gravity planets almost as fast as they.

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