See what may be 1st pic of a Tatooine-like planet + its 2 suns

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Mar 25, 2013, 12:26 PM EDT (Updated)

We've known they've existed for a while, but this is the first time we've ever seen one.

Astronomers have already indirectly observed objects they now call "Tatooines," planets or planet-like bodies that orbit a system of two stars, just like the planet in the Star Wars universe. Now, for the first time, they've got a photo of one. Below is an infrared image taken last fall by the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Now, the reason that phrase "planet-like" is up there is that astronomers aren't sure yet that the object (designated 2MASS0103(AB)b) at the top of that image is a planet. It's orbiting a binary star system, which certainly suggests that it's a planet, but it's also incredibly massive. In fact, it's 12 to 14 times more massive than Jupiter, which leads researchers to believe that instead of a very, very massive planet, it could actually be a low-mass almost-star called a brown dwarf.

"It's either one of the most massive planets you can form or the lowest-mass star you can imagine," said Philippe Delorme of Joseph Fourier University in France, who took the image with his colleagues last year.

Researchers are now studying the light spectrum of the object to learn more about its atmosphere and, hopefully, determine exactly what it is. Delorme notes that the difference between massive planets and brown dwarfs "is more of a working definition, as it is easier to measure the mass of an object than its past formation history." Depending on what it is, the object could teach us a lot about how both planets and brown dwarfs form. For instance, if it is a brown dwarf, that means it likely formed at the same time as the two nearby stars, but it never made it as far as they did.

But if it isn't a brown dwarf, that means we've just glimpsed our first real Tatooine.

(Via NewScientist)


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