The existence of a world with a double sunset, as portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 30 years ago, is now scientific fact. NASA’s Kepler mission has made the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet — a planet orbiting two stars — 200 light-years from Earth.

Unlike Star Wars’ Tatooine, the planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Previous research has hinted at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Kepler detected such a planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it.

“This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life,” Kepler Principal Investigator William Borucki, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said. “Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now.”

Read the whole thing and see the pretty pictures here.

Comments

  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    September 15, 2011

    Uh….

    Star Trek =/= Star Wars. Gosh sake. FIX that. :(

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    September 15, 2011

    Luna, I saw the post of Greg’s title on my blogroll, knew which system he must be talking about (since Phil Plait had already made the relevant Star Wars references) and came over to say just that. But you beat me to it.

  3. #3 John Swindle
    September 15, 2011

    A sad waste of geek points.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    September 15, 2011

    Luna, wait, what?

    Anyway, it’s all Heinlein anyway.

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    September 15, 2011

    It’s sad that you cannot decry
    What’s the diff? from SF to Sci-Fi —
    But there is a fine line
    Between Robert Heinlein
    and Son of the Two-Headed Fly.

  6. #6 Vince Whirlwind
    September 15, 2011

    @4 – Exactly – can we stop pretending Star Trek ever offered anything original, please?

  7. #7 Charles Sullivan
    September 17, 2011

    Scotty: I can’t do it, Captain. Not without the force.

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