The Kepler Space Telescope has just spotted the largest ever Star Wars-like planet orbiting two suns. Interestingly, the planet is located within the Habitable zone of the solar system.
The planet known as Kepler-1647b is located a fascinating 3,700 light years away from our sun in, in the constellation of Cygnus. Researchers spotted its transit in 2011, but it took them five years to gather all data to confirm its existence.
Most of us have watched Star Wars and are familiar with the moment Luke Skywalker was on his world Tatooine, depicted as having two suns. While Tatooine is the product of Hollywood filmmakers, the truth is that these kinds of planets have firmly been present in reality ever since researchers discovered a Tatooine-like planet in 2011.
It seems that after all, Star Wars and Star Trek are predicting a lot of Alien worlds and advanced technology. What was thought to be only available on big screens decades ago, has turned out to be real.
The group of researchers from San Diego State University used the Kepler Space Telescope to find the new planet formally named as Kepler-1647 b. According to NASA, the research was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal with Veselin Kostov, a NASA Goddard postdoctoral fellow, as lead author.
Interestingly, the approximate age of the planet is 4.4 billion years, which means that it is around the same age as our planet. According to scientists, Kepler-1647 b has one of the longest orbits recorded for a transiting planet.
Astronomers search the universe for these planets using the Kepler Space Telescope looking for dips in the brightness that may reveal clues about a planet transiting in front of a star, which causes it to block some of the stars sunlight.
According to the research, the stars of Kepler-1647 b are eerily similar to our sun, with one being a bit larger than our sun, and the other one a bit smaller.
However, the planet itself is believed to have a mass and radius nearly identical to that of Jupiter.
Scientists refer to planets that orbit two stars as circumbinary planets, but they also refer to them as “Tatooine” planets, after Luke Skywalker’s home world in “Star Wars.”
“But finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars,” said SDSU astronomer William Welsh, one of the paper’s coauthors. “The transits are not regularly spaced in time, and they can vary in duration and even depth.” (Source)
“It’s a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm since it is easier to find big planets than small ones,” said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, a coauthor on the study. “But it is because its orbital period is so long.” (Source)
Kepler-1647 b takes around 1,107, days or around three years on Earth to complete a single orbit around its host stars. Interestingly in addition of being the largest planet ever discovered orbiting two suns, it has the longest period of any confirmed transiting exoplanet found to date.
Even more fascinating is the fact that the planets orbit puts Kepler-1647 b within the so-called habitable zone, which is the region in a solar system where planets are located just at the right distance for liquid water to be present on the surface of the planet.
However, researchers believe that Kepler-1647 b is a gas giant just like Jupiter, making it highly improbable for life (as we know it) to exist on its surface.
“Habitability aside, Kepler-1647b is important because it is the tip of the iceberg of a theoretically predicted population of large, long-period circumbinary planets,” said Welsh.
For more information about the Kepler mission, please see:
A preprint of the paper can be found at: