Real Life ‘Tatooine’?
Pretty cool news from NASA yesterday courtesy of the Kepler space telescope if you’re a fan of Star Wars, and specifically Tatooine! The planetary finder telescope has located two more planets orbiting a binary star system several hundred light-years away from Earth. A binary star system simply means two stars orbiting around one center of mass, usually the larger star of the two. Before Kepler launched in 2009 it was thought that planets could not exist around binary star systems but we’ve since been proven wrong, very wrong! Not only has Kepler discovered 3 of these planets in the last year, the two most recent planets announced yesterday are most likely within the habitable zone of the star system. The habitable zone is the region from a star where water can exist as a liquid, thus offering the potential of life. Kepler has found several planets in the habitable zones of other single star systems, but never before in a binary system until now.
The two newest planets discovered, Kepler 34-b and 35-b, are real-life ‘Tatooines’, Luke Skywalker’s home planet from Star Wars. The scene from A New Hope when Luke walks outside at sunset and gazes at the twin stars setting on the horizon is now proven to be a real cosmic occurrence. If you grew up on Star Wars like I did then this is really exiting news! This really brings out the inner geek in me because that scene is one of my favorites from the entire Star Wars saga. The news was announced yesterday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Dallas. NASA said in the report that of the 750 systems surveyed they found these two “circumbinary” planets. This is considerable more than NASA ever hoped to find because if you extrapolate that ratio out to the number of planets that are estimated to be in the Milky Way, there could be as many as several million circumbinary planets in our galaxy!
Kepler 34-b and 35-b are both gas giants, however. 34-b is approximately 22 percent as massive as Jupiter and roughly the size of Saturn and orbits the stars every 289 days. Kepler 35-b is approximately 13 percent the mass of Jupiter and is basically the same size as 34-b. Kepler 34-b is 4,900 light-years away and 35-b is 5,400 light-years away. Other exciting news from the AAS meeting yesterday is that NASA estimates that there could be as many as 160 billion planets is our own galaxy! With that many planets the odds are heavily in favor of finding more than one that could support life. We’ll just have to wait and see! If God made one planet to support life who’s to say He didn’t make two, or three, or three hundred. We’ll never know unless we keep our gaze fixed upward to the heavens.