NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Kepler-16b, A Planet Orbiting Two Suns

(Music) NASA’s Kepler Mission has made the first detection of a planet orbiting two stars. About 200 light years away from our solar system, the planet Kepler-16b orbits two of the 150,000 stars that the spacecraft is monitoring between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. Kepler detected the planet directly through what is known as a planetary transit, an event where the brightness of a star dims as a result of a planet crossing in front of it. Planets orbiting double stars have been a favorite of science fiction writers for a long time, the most famous of which is from the 1977 movie “Star Wars,” which showed a double sunset viewed from the fictional planet of Tatooine. Until now, astronomers did not know if such planetary systems could actually exist. Because of Kepler-16, astronomers have confirmed that the double sunset seen by Luke Skywalker is possible. (Music) The planet Kepler-16b is cold, gaseous and about the size of Saturn. Its stars are both smaller than the Sun and about 2 billion years younger than our Solar System. They orbit around each other, so from our vantage point they take turns eclipsing each other about every 41 days. The planet Kepler-16b orbits around both stars every 229 days. It is outside of the habitable zone of the stars, which is the region where temperatures are right for liquid water to exist on the surface of the planet. Since it is made of gas, Kepler-16b may not harbor life, but there is evidence that rocky planets with double sunsets are common in our galaxy. And the discovery of these by the Kepler mission are helping to turn science fiction into science fact. (Music)


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