Tatooine-like planet: Astronomers spot pair of planets orbiting twin suns (+video)
Tatooine-like planet: In a cosmic first, astronomers have discovered two alien planets orbiting two stars, not unlike Luke Skywalker's home planet in the Star Wars films.
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In addition, since all the circumbinary planets the Kepler space telescope has discovered have orbits closely aligned with the orbits their stars have with each other, "you would see your suns eclipse each other on a regular basis," Orosz said. "In the case of Kepler-47, when the secondary star passes in front of the primary, the total light drops by 15 percent. This would happen every 7.5 days or so."Skip to next paragraph
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More exotic alien solar systems possible
The new discovery show that planetary systems can form and survive even in the chaotic environment around binary stars.
The researchers expect that the planets in Kepler-47 originated much farther out than their present orbits, at locations where the conditions for the formation of giant planets are more favorable. They eventually then migrated inward due to interactions with the disk of gas and dust that also encircled the stars.
"We think these planets and most other planets formed from a residual disk of debris left over from the star-formation process," Orosz said. "It was not at all obvious that this disk could survive near a newly formed binary star, given the orbital motions of the two stars. However, it now appears that apart from minor differences in the orbital spacings, planetary systems around binary stars can be similar to those around single stars."
In the future, the researchers want to look for smaller and smaller alien planets around binary stars.
"We are at the limit of what simple visual searches can do, so we need better software to help us automate the process," Orosz said. "Given more time and data, I think we can find more circumbinary planetary systems in the Kepler data."
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