Scientists from the Kepler Mission just announced the discovery of the first circumbinary exoplanet, Kepler-16b (i.e., a planet that has two suns). No word yet on whether it’s inhabited with a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
The Kepler Mission is dedicated to studying the light from distant stars in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, looking for the telltale dip in their brightness that could indicate the presence of a planet. For a Kepler refresher, check out the very first whiteboard video I did for Maddow Blog on this exact topic.
Back to this latest discovery, the star system itself (Kepler-16) is approximately 200 light-years away and neither star is as big as our Sun, though one star is much larger than the other. And while the stars are about 20 million miles apart, they whip around each other once every 41 days. That means two eclipses roughly every six weeks from the point of view of the planet (Kepler-16b) which orbits them both at a distance comparable to Venus in our Solar System, but has a mass closer to Saturn’s.
This discovery is of great interest to astronomers for more reasons that I can list here, not the least of which is revisiting our understanding of planetary formation. But I think the most important take away for today is that George Lucas clearly knew something we didn’t back in 1977…