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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.

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