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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: 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.

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