Who doesn’t remember the famous scene of Luke Skywalker staring in to the distance to see two suns setting that are visible from Tatooine. It’s a beautiful and moving scene that was once thought only to exist in the realms of science fiction. That fantasy has become a reality. The planet Kepler 16B has been observed by the Kepler telescope as orbiting two suns. Sibling suns (known as binary suns) are not fictional as they were though to be in the past.
Binary suns usually orbit each other every eight to one hundred days. Planets are found when they move across each sun. These planets are known as exoplanets ( a planet that is outside Earth’s solar system). When the suns move closer together, they become much more difficult to find. Those are known as compact binary systems. The planetary orbital plane of the planets and suns may be completely off so they are invisible to the telescope.
The Kepler telescope is a NASA spacecraft that’s in a heliocentric orbit. That just means that it’s orbiting the sun. It looks for star brightness in the Milky Way region near the constellation of Cygnus (swan). The telescope measures photons. When it measures that the light level has diminished, it means that a planets has passed across the plane of the telescope’s view. A planetary transit has happened.
It’s speculated that sibling suns are part of systems that have lost energy and shrunk. That’s what brought the suns closer together. As the suns move nearer to each other. The orbits of the planets that orbit them become misaligned. That makes it impossible for the telescope to find planets that don’t cross in front of the suns.
This is very exciting news. Star Wars has just taken a step toward reality! Even being in a galaxy, that’s far, far away. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.
Until next time!