Kepler Planets Found Orbiting Two Stars, Luke Skywalker Finds Tatooine

On a clear night, when you are able to get away from city lights and take a real look at the sky, you will notice something. Things are up there—a ton of them.  Most kids have grown up with the idea that the number of stars in the sky number somewhere around or equal to the amount of grains of sand found on a beach.  Recent looks at and around the universe, however, have proven that planets may be just as numerous as the stars.

The fittingly described “planet-hunting” NASA Kepler Space Telescope, has kept true to its name and has gone where no men have gone before—giving scientists reason to believe that other Earth-like planets may be more numerous than we may think.  Dr. Arnaud Cassan and his team of researchers from the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris used a special technique to get a closer look at 100 million stars between 3,000 and 25,000 light-years away from Earth.  Using light that has been intensified by the gravity of a massive star, the telescope acts as an “astronomical magnifying lens,” illuminating bodies previously unobserved.  It was by this technique, that the team was able to spot what was originally believed to be only an anomaly.

“Planets are the rule rather than the exception,” explained Dr. Cassan.  And among these planets are Kepler-16, Kepler-34b, and Kepler-35b.  What makes these planets so special is the binary star system that each one orbits.  Planets orbiting two separate stars are a recent discovery, with the first one (Kepler-16) being discovered just last year.  Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b exist 4900 and 5400 light years away, respectively, in the constellation Cygnus.  And their uniqueness is further compounded by the fact that they also happen to be situated relatively close to what is considered the habitable zone. 

It is in this “Goldilocks” zone where elements would provide the necessary means for water to form on the planet’s service—not too hot, not too cold, but just right.  While the atmosphere surrounding a binary star system is rocky at best, researchers, like astronomer William Welsh of San Diego State University, point out that this discovery proves that “nature likes to form planets, even in chaotic environments close to two stars.” Welsh added that he was going to continue to remain on the look-out for more “circumbinary planets.”   “[The search]’s by no means easy,” Welsh stated, “but I expect we will find more of these gems in the Kepler data.”

But looking at conditions on these planets, it is evident that they are in no way similar to that found here on Earth.  All three planets almost match Jupiter in its size but are closer to Neptune in weight (a dense 17 times heavier than Earth)—making anything that were to live on it, literally, something out of this world. Claud Lacey, of the University of Arkansas who, although an expert in the field of binary star systems did not participate in this new research, muses on what may be living on these new planets: “Perhaps a large, floating-type animal that could adjust its density so that it could rise and fall in the atmosphere.”

…That would be awesome…

For the time being, the suns are nowhere close to setting on this new information.

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