Print 24 comment(s) - last by V-Money.. on Sep 22 at 4:52 PM

A planet with two suns ... something straight out of Star Wars

In a press release seemingly from a science fiction movie, a recently discovered planet about 200 light years from Earth reportedly orbits two different suns.  This is the first time researchers have witnessed a planet with two stars, but researchers aren't surprised at this discovery.    

The Kepler 16b planet has two suns that orbit one another in 35 days.  If a person visited Kepler 16b, they would be greeted by a sky that featured two prominent stars -- and circles both stars in 229 days.  

SETI researchers don't believe that life exists on Kepler 16b, but are anxious to learn more about Kepler 16b.  The planet itself likely is extremely dense, and is close to the size of Saturn, researchers say.

Kepler 16b's larger sun is almost 70 percent the size as the Earth's sun, while the smaller star is closer to 20 percent.  The planet and its celestial bodies are able to form a proper system because they are an appropriate distance from one another, so there doesn't appear to be a risk of the planet collapsing into one of its stars.

When Tatooine was first shown in Hollywood, there was immediate doubt as to whether or not a similar planet would be found.  

"It's possible that there's a real Tatooine out there," said John Knoll, Industrial Lights and Magic visual effects supervisor, in a statement.  "Kepler 16b is unambiguous and dramatic proof that planets really do form around binaries."

The findings were published in Science, and were made using the Kepler space telescope.  The Kepler program aims to continue searching for planets similar to Earth that also orbit stars, along with studying how many stars have bodies currently orbiting them.

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By lolmuly on 9/16/2011 7:04:28 AM , Rating: 2
if the two stars are orbiting each other, while the planet orbits both simultaneously, would the path of the planet look like a spirograph? how long would it take to return to the beginning of its path (forgiving small variances)?

RE: hmmmmm
By Kurz on 9/16/2011 7:20:45 AM , Rating: 2
Well past a certain distance I believe the Gravitational well will be quite smooth. So the orbit can be quite regular.

RE: hmmmmm
By MrBlastman on 9/16/2011 10:15:17 AM , Rating: 2
Well, according to the limited material we have here, we only know one star is 20% our Sun's size and the other is 70%. That tells us little about mass. We know that the period for the planet is 227+ days. However, after checking with NASA:

I discover the article is poorly written. That 70% and 20% actually refer to mass, not size (size could mean either but it needs to be clearer). So, now that we know we aren't dealing with a neutron star here, I'd of first assumed it would be circular with some deviation.

NASA makes it easy though, as we don't have to assume. Play with that diagram a little and you'll see for yourself. It looks pretty circular to me. What's curious is that there is a planet hypothesized even closer than this one they found which has a less than perfect orbit. However, there is a little bit of wobble on the horizontal plane per the diagram for the found planet which would make sense considering the two graviational fields it is dealing with. Also interesting is the second star's orbit looks pretty stable.

RE: hmmmmm
By Omega215D on 9/16/2011 12:43:37 PM , Rating: 2
With that being settled let's go have some blue milk and then head over to Toshi station to pick up power converters...

RE: hmmmmm
By ClownPuncher on 9/16/2011 6:03:14 PM , Rating: 3
Those in the know say it was Wookie milk.

RE: hmmmmm
By geddarkstorm on 9/16/2011 2:41:45 PM , Rating: 5
It would orbit the solar system's center in a circle just like our planet does, unless it was very close to the stars so the orbit of the second could throw it off by gravitational tides (but then it would have been destroyed long ago!). Earth does not actually orbit the sun, but the solar system's center of mass (barycenter) which is located very close to the center of the sun (this is why our orbit has eccentricity, in that it isn't a perfect circle around our star). The sun itself ALSO orbits the barycenter (we're talking a VERY small orbit, as the center is close to the core of the sun, but not actually there). This planet would orbit its system's barycenter like our planet, and so would its two stars. For this system the barycenter is probably between the two stars, and very close to (or within) the surface of the largest.

First Time?
By Johanus on 9/16/11, Rating: 0
RE: First Time?
By TSS on 9/16/2011 8:51:03 AM , Rating: 2
Heh i'll bet pointing out common knowledge like "binary systems are quite common" will lead to comments like "in other news, the sun is hot". I'm all for commenting on the state of articles on this site since most can use improvements but this is as good as it gets for news-sized bites of info. I didn't want more info for the time spent reading it, if i wanted more details i'd google "kepler 16b".

Also this news is about the planet orbiting the system. If i wanted to know more about binary stars, i'd probably google "binary star systems".

so IMO great article. More detailed yet about as long as the other 3 "general" news sites i've read this on.

RE: First Time?
By Spoelie on 9/16/2011 9:05:10 AM , Rating: 2
Except that that third start is located 0.2 light years away, or 1.360.000,0 the diameter of our own sun. I'm sure they have some gravitational effect on each other, but I wouldn't really call it a three-star system, more of a 2,5.

RE: First Time?
By borismkv on 9/16/2011 10:57:47 AM , Rating: 3
The news isn't that there's a binary star system, it's that there's a binary system with a planet around it. Scientist theorize that binary and trinary stars, with their unusual gravitational variations, would result in any planets that form either being sucked in and crushed by the stars or tossed out of their orbit. Thus, the likelihood of a planet having multiple suns is very very low.

RE: First Time?
By Solandri on 9/16/2011 1:13:21 PM , Rating: 1
That depends on the orbits of the stars. If the two stars orbit each other at a distance similar to the planet, then it's an unpredictable 3-body problem and the planet will likely be eaten or tossed out.

But if the two stars orbit each other very closely while the planet is far away, then to the planet the gravity of the two stars looks pretty much like a single star, and its orbit is stable.

I agree with OP. If you assume every star has several planets at varying distances, then planets orbiting close-binary star systems are probably the norm, not the exception. The closer planets would be eaten or ejected, but the further ones will remain.

RE: First Time?
By JW.C on 9/19/2011 7:41:18 AM , Rating: 2
Kepler has forced us to throw out a lot of what we thought with regards to where we expected to find planets. It turns out that almost every star has a planetary system and the finding of planets around this binary was a tad bit of a shock because of what we had assumed.

I wont be shocked if we eventually find planets in the habitable zone of a binary system.

Now all we have to do is figure out how to get to those planets!

RE: First Time?
By V-Money on 9/22/2011 4:52:21 PM , Rating: 2
So perhaps it is true that this is the first binary star system with a "neoplanet" revolving around it, but you should have started off by pointing out that binary star systems are quite common.

I don't really see why this would be necessary, anyone who is actually interested in the subject of this article would already know this. I remember reading this article back in '05 that explained why researchers normally avoid looking for them altogether. It isn't shocking that there is a planet around the 2 suns, its that we are able to observe one.

Our Binary System
By SiliconJon on 9/16/2011 10:55:50 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe we can derive some data from studying this binary system to work towards mapping our own theoretical binary companion, which is even more difficult for two reasons: paradigm paralysis, and it's easier to look about the solar system through our far more clear sol north and south windows than peering through the debris loaded solar equatorial regions. Here's some of what we have on the matter already, though.

A wide-binary solar companion as a possible origin of Sedna-like objects

Sun Has Binary Partner, May Affect The Earth

Persistent Evidence of a Jovian Mass Solar Companion in the Oort Cloud

And to go to Walter Cruttenden's own website where he lays out his favorite factors that point to the existence of our own binary companion :

Cue the "debunker" who says it can't possibly be true (or that the idea is ludicrous) because some people claim that, despite having been there all along, this binary companion is all of the sudden going to destroy us all, or because mainstream science doesn't say it could be so, therefore it could not be so. (some compositional fallacy or appeal to popularity)

Nothing like Star Wars
By bug77 on 9/16/11, Rating: -1
RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By MrBlastman on 9/16/2011 11:40:55 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't be so quick to say that.

The planet in this article takes 227 days to orbit the main Star. The captured star only takes 40 days to orbit its host. The captured star is also only 20% the mass of our own star. Given that it will have multiple passes in that given time that it takes the other planet to orbit a single time, it won't be fully exposed on a consistent basis. Thus, as my link in another post indicates, there still is a "habitable zone" that the planet can lie in an support life as we know it.

This planet, however, lies outside that habitable zone. As it turns out, this planet is too cold, not too hot.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By bug77 on 9/16/2011 12:07:04 PM , Rating: 2
Look at the temperature differences here on earth, with just one Sun. Imagine having a second one, even 20% of our Sun that would sometimes shine full strength and at other times be completely hidden behind the larger star. Sure, you could have organisms live in these conditions, but not humans.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By MrBlastman on 9/16/2011 12:22:59 PM , Rating: 5
Well, sure, but you have to remember that the orbiting star in this system is 20% the size (in mass) of our sun. That means it is 80% smaller. That means a lot less energy is being output from the Star.

Check out a table of Stellar Classifications. A star that is = .45 Solar masses (our sun) has only = 8% the luminoscity of our sun! Far, far less. The main star of the system, which is ~68% of our solar mass, has ~50% the luminoscity of our own sun. Neither of these stars come close to the output or, as you put it, "baking potential" as our own Sun.

Once you know these facts, you then have to look at the distance the planet lies from these stars. The planet is .705 AU's--70% the distance our Earth is from our own star. Even then, with the main star having 50% the output of our own, this reduction in distance fails to make up for the lack of output. It just isn't going to happen here.

There is a such thing as the habitable zone , or in other terms, the Goldilocks zone. It will be not too hot, not too cold but instead, just right. You have to look at the facts, man, not just speculate here. This is one instance where we have an abundance of data.

Not only that, but once you know all this, you have to know what the atmospheric conditions are on the planet plus its albedo (tendency to reflect light back into space). These go a long way towards determining how much heat the planet retains or radiates which are also determinants of whether the planet can or cannot bear life.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By geddarkstorm on 9/16/2011 2:34:57 PM , Rating: 2
Having two might make temperatures more variable (micro-seasons based on the orbit of the second star) but nothing that would make it impossible for humans to live there at all. In fact, the extra light (shorter nights) the second star could provide at certain parts of its orbit may enhance growing conditions for crops and plants.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By CZroe on 9/18/2011 12:18:42 AM , Rating: 2
If they go through their changes rapidly enough it could be avearged out by the systems the planet may have for regulating temperature. If we alternated every day between summer and winter solar output for any given point here on Earth's surface, the daily temperatures would not switch between freezing and scortching thanks to the atmosphere, currents, water vapor, greenhouse gasses, etc.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By CZroe on 9/18/2011 12:20:30 AM , Rating: 2
IOW, it could be MORE regular from a binary system than what we get from our singlular system.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By AwesomeDuck on 9/16/2011 12:52:00 PM , Rating: 1
Star Wars was also fantasy.
Or science fiction, if you count the midichlorians. It's a fine to say the least.

Either was, it wasn't real (no matter how much we all wish it was).

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By Bad-Karma on 9/16/2011 1:30:04 PM , Rating: 2
Shhh.....You'll upset thousands in their basements around the world.

RE: Nothing like Star Wars
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2011 12:45:05 PM , Rating: 2
Star Wars was also fantasy. Or science fiction

Nah I think with the addition of the prequels it's crossed into the horror genre...

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