‘Star Wars’-style planet found in a galaxy far, far away

Planet orbits rare double star, much like Luke Skywalker’s home Tatooine

 

Irish astronomers have helped discover a planet orbiting a rare double star, much like the fictional planet Tatooine in the Star Wars film franchise.

And although the planet lies in the “Goldilocks” zone – neither too hot nor too cold – the scientists do not believe they have discovered the home of the films’ hero Luke Skywalker.

It is only the 10th double-star solar system identified so far using data from the Earth-orbiting Kepler satellite, and just the third with a planet in the habitable zone, the astronomers say.

Kepler stopped looking for planets in 2012 but astronomers continue to dig through the mountains of data it captured. An international team including astronomers from Armagh Observatory made the find. They announced details at the 29th International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Hawaii, and published them in the Astrophysical Journal.

Computers based in Ireland, the UK and South Korea helped to study the double-star solar system, said Dr Tobias Hinse, a research associate at Armagh.

The planet, named Kepler- 453b, lies in the direction of the constellation Lyra about 1,400 light years away. And while it does have a lovely view of a double-sun it is unlikely to have found favour with Skywalker. Kepler-453b is a gas giant, far less hospitable than fictional Tatooine, a desert planet that had a breathable atmosphere.

Seeing the planet at all was something of a “lucky catch” said Prof William Welsh of San Diego State University, the lead author of the study. Kepler collected three “transits”, when the planet passed in front of one of the stars, but these will not be visible again until 2066.

The study also found there are likely to be 11 times more double-star solar systems than previously thought.