Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the San Diego State University have confirmed the discovery of the biggest known Tatooine planet. The planet has two suns in its sky. Circumbinary planets – those that orbit two stars – are often called Tatooine after the fictional planet in the Hollywood flick Star Wars where Luke Skywalker was raised.
The Tatooine-like planet is a gas giant
Astronomers announced findings of their study at the 228th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Monday. Their paper was published in The Astrophysical Journal. The Jupiter-sized gaseous planet, named Kepler 1647b, was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope. The planet has a wide orbit as it takes 1,107 days or about three years to revolve around its two stars. It is located near the constellation Cygnus.
More importantly, Kepler 1647b is in the “habitable zone” of its stars, meaning the planet is neither too cold nor too hot. It is warm enough to host liquid water. However, it is a gas giant like Jupiter, eliminating the possibility of life there. Any large moons circling the planet could host life, though. Astronauts said the planet is 3,700 light years away from Earth.
Kepler 1647b was first detected in 2011
Kepler 1647b is 4.4 billion years old, almost the same age as our Earth. Its two stars also share similarity with our Sun. One of them is slightly larger than our Sun while the other is slightly smaller, said study co-author Jerome Orosz of the San Diego State University.
Astronomers said it is more difficult to find Tatooine-like planets than those around single stars because the transits are not regularly spaced in time, duration, and depth. SETI Institute noticed the transits of Kepler 1647b in 2011, but it took scientists several years to collect and analyze data due to its three-year long orbits. Kepler telescope detects planets when they pass in front of their host stars, causing “slight dips in brightness.”