Just in time for the Blu-ray release of the Star Wars saga, NASA has made an incredible discovery: the real-life version of Tatooine!
According to NASA's official website, the space agency's investigation of the Kepler-16 system—a pair of stars orbiting each other 200 light-years from Earth—has turned up the amazing find of a planet that orbits both stars, just like the home world of the Skywalker family.
Kepler-16b, as it's being called now, is cold, gaseous and probably not able to sustain life, so we doubt there are any sandpeople or Jawas lurking around on the planet. But the discovery is still confirmed evidence that such worlds, known as circumbinary planets, can and do exist.
Kepler lead investigator William Borucki said, "This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life. 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."
The planet was discovered through the use of the Kepler space telescope, which tracks dips in the brightness of over 150,000 stars in the universe. It was unusual dips in the brightness of the two stars—that could not be accountable to them eclipsing each other—that led researchers to discover their satellite, which is said to be around the size of Saturn. (see NASA video presentation below)
And what kinds of views would one have if one was able to stand on Kepler-16b and watch the suns set?
"Sometimes the red star would set first," said Laurance Doyle, a Kepler team member from the SETI Institute. "Other times the orange star would. Sometimes they'd set at the same time. To tell the time using a sundial you'd need calculus."
The timing of this—with the Star Wars Blu-rays in stores tomorrow—almost makes it seem like a publicity stunt, doesn't it? Either way, the petition to officially change the name of Kepler-16b to Tatooine starts here!
(via Talking Points Memo)