A mournful French horn blows. An angsty Luke Skywalker stomps out of his aunt and uncle’s sand hut and peers up at Tatooine’s double sunset, his hair blowing in the breeze. It’s a memorable scene from Star Wars—but now, a precedent for such a sky with two suns has been found in our universe.
Using data from the Kepler space observatory, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and SETI have discovered for the first time a planet orbiting a binary star system, passing in front of both its parent stars along its orbit.
The planet, Kepler-16b, resembles Saturn in its mass and gaseous makeup. That mostly rules out the possibility of any living beings being present to enjoy the double sunset view, although chances are good Kepler-16b has an icy, non-gaseous satellite or two, as Saturn does.
The two stars in the system are 20% and 69% as massive as our sun, respectively. The planet orbits at a distance analogous to Venus’s orbit in our solar system, which typically would place it within the “habitable zone” of planets that could support life. But since the combined mass of the two stars is still less than our sun, Kepler-16b’s Venus-like orbit is most likely a cold one. READ FULL ARTICLE