NASA discovered a very interesting new planet using the Kepler spacecraft that has been dubbed Kepler-16b last fall. The new planet orbits two suns making it similar to Luke Skywalker’s home world of Tatooine from Star Wars in that it orbits two suns. The catch is that the planet itself isn’t the potentially habitable location; rather it’s a moon that might be orbiting the Tatooine-like planet.
Kepler-16b was discovered last fall and a recent study by doctoral student Billy Quarles at the University of Texas at Arlington and colleagues have been working on simulated possibilities that would put an Earth-mass world in the Kepler-16 system. The team is assuming that the brighter of the two stars in the system would provide most of the light and heat for orbiting planets. That would put the main habitable zone for the system at 55 to 106 million kilometers from the stars.
Kepler-16b itself is a gas giant similar to Saturn and would be uninhabitable, but a moon in the gas giant’s orbit could possibly sustain life. The gas giant is on the outer edge of the system’s habitable zone. The researchers note that a habitable planet orbiting closer to the stars, still in the habitable zone could have been ejected by the gravitational forces of the two stars and arrived at the gas giant as a ready formed moon. If the moon exists and were habitable, could you imagine the sunset with twin stars and orbiting a gas giant. Whether such a moon exists is a big “if” for sure, but I move we call the habitable moon Endor.
[via National Geographic]