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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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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!

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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