Two stars brighten the sky above Kepler-35b, a planet discovered by the Kepler spacecraft, in this artist's concept. The planet orbits the two stars once every 131 days, giving it double sunrises and sunsets like those depicted for the planet Tatooine in "Star Wars." [© Mark A. Garlick / space-art.co.uk]
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New planets in other star systems aren’t generally big news these days -- over the last couple of decades, astronomers have discovered hundreds of them. But a few discoveries are still intriguing. Such was the case earlier this year, when astronomers with the Kepler mission announced the discovery of planets that orbit two stars, not one. San Diego State astronomer William Welsh made the announcement:
WELSH: It is my privilege to announce the discovery of two new planets, Kepler 34 and Kepler 35. But much more importantly than just finding two new planets, this really establishes a whole new class of planetary system. So there are millions of planets in our galaxy that have two suns in their sky.
A couple of teams had already found similar types of systems with ground-based telescopes, and the Kepler space telescope found its first such system last year. But the new discoveries showed that such worlds should be common. And the view from these worlds would be a familiar one to fans of science fiction: the sunsets would look like those on Tattoine, the home of Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars”:
WELSH: If you were looking at a sunset, hypothetically, from a planet, and you wanted something that looked like Tattoine, you should go to Kepler 34. If sunsets aren’t your cup of tea, then stick around, and in about two weeks you’ll get a really, really dramatic eclipse, and those will occur about every two weeks in that system.
The discoveries confirm that planets can form just about anywhere -- even in the gravitational whirlpool of a binary star system. So we’ll be seeing many more announcements of new planets in the months and years ahead -- including a few that will still grab the headlines.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
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