NASA Finds Planet Circling Two Stars

Sadly, it's not Tatooine

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 15, 2011 3:17 PM CDT

(Newser) – NASA has found another decidedly nifty planet. Meet Kepler-16b, the first planet ever verified to have two suns—kind of like Tatooine from Star Wars, NASA noted in its announcement. There’s no way the Saturn-sized world is habitable—it’s at least half gas—but “the discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life,” Kepler’s principle investigator says. “This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now."

The planet, 200 light-years away, was spotted by a SETI Institute research team using data from the Kepler space telescope. The stars that Kepler-16b orbits are orbiting each other as well, and often eclipse each other. But scientists spotted the dimming effect of a planet zipping past regardless of the orientation of the stars, confirming that it was circling both stars and not just one.

This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars.
This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars.   (NASA)
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