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Published:September 20th, 2011 19:15 EST
Star Wars Not So Far-Fetched: Planet Discovered by NASA Orbiting Twin Stars

Star Wars Not So Far-Fetched: Planet Discovered by NASA Orbiting Twin Stars

By Ron G Anselm

I remember standing in line at the Northridge Fashion Center`s high-tech movie theater or what is known today as Northridge Mall in Southern, California waiting to see the movie Star Wars which was predicted to be the biggest box office hit of the 1970s. The line to see the movie was longer than any line I had ever stood in, even longer than the long lines at many amusement parks I went to back when I was a kid.

We were all there to see the first showing of the movie Star Wars on the big silver screen. The air at the theater was filled with excitement and young kids acted like they just woke up at midnight on Christmas morning running to see what Santa Clause just left them under the Christmas tree. It was the good ol`days and a movie like Star Wars coming out back then was like a discovering the cure for cancer. The movie was full of future high-technology when it came to space and some off the wall scenes that only Hollywood could come up with and if you have ever seen the movie you know what I am talking about. Amazing skyscapes with silhouettes of huge planets as far as one could see into the horizon.

One of the scenes in the movie featured a planet or world with two sunsets which we all were amazed at seeing in the movie back then but knew that the scenes were just something out of Hollywood or so we thought.

Now, that same scene of a planet with two sunsets has been discovered by NASA`s Kepler`s Mission to be a reality. The planet discovered to have two sunsets is orbiting two stars and is about 200 light years away from Earth.

The name of the planet in Star Wars was Tatooine and this newly discovered planet has the same characteristic as Tatooine did in Star Wars. It is cold, full of gaseous vapor and does not seem to harbor any life bit does prove that within our galaxy and solar system that we have a big diversity of many types of planets.

"The newly, two sunset planet is known as Keplar-16b named after the NASA mission that discovered it. The planet was discovered by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it. William Borucki, who is NASA Kepler`s projects principle investigator for the project commented by saying, "This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life, Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now." (Borucki, 2011)

The planet discovered by NASA is in the Habitable Zone and a research team on the Kepler project used data from the Kepler Space Telescope to search transitioning planets in that zone when the new planet was discovered. The telescope measures dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars.

The Habitable Zone is a zone or region in the planetary system where liquid water may or can exist on any one of the planets surfaces. The way that this planet was discovered by scientist and from the data collected is interesting. One of the two stars in the habitable zone which both stars normally eclipse each other when the smaller star was seen to partially block the larger star, a primary eclipse occurred. And then a secondary eclipse occurred as the larger star completely blocked the view of the smaller star.

"Scientist further discovered as the two stars were chasing one another in that region, that even at the point when both stars were not eclipsing one another that the level of brightness dipped in and around the stars which would hint there is a third body or mass of some sort. The additional dimming in brightness events, called the tertiary and quaternary eclipses, reappeared at irregular intervals of time, indicating the stars were in different positions in their orbit each time the third body passed. This showed the third body was circling, not just one, but both stars, in a wide circumbinary orbit." (nasa.com, 2011)

One of NASA`s lead scientists commented by saying, "Most of what we know about the sizes of stars comes from such eclipsing binary systems, and most of what we know about the size of planets comes from transits, "Kepler-16 combines the best of both worlds, with stellar eclipses and planetary transits in one system." (nasa.com, 2011)

The characteristics of the new planet is about the same as taking a trip to one of the most remote regions in Antarctica where it is as cold as a January night in Maine and is as lonely as driving down a remote backwoods road in Alabama. The planet is thought to be made up of half rock and half gas and is somewhat the size of Saturn. The two stars that inhibit in and around the planet are smaller than our sun, which one is about 69-percent smaller in mass than the sun and the other is about 20-percent smaller in mass than the sun. The planet orbits around the stars every 229 days which is similar to Venus which orbits around its stars every 225 days.

If you think about this it is really amazing that over 30 years ago when the movie Star Wars was first filmed and the writers and directors of the movie were trying to come up with off the wall ideas to make the film interesting and focused on the future of something that at that time was still very new to us; space and other worlds that exist in our galaxy that the one scenario in the movie of a planet with a double sunset did actually exist but scientists at that time did not even have a clue that this scenario was a reality until now.

"John Knoll who is the animation Supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic which is an animation company of Lucas Film summed this up as he said, "Working in film, we often are tasked with creating something never before seen. However, more often than not, scientific discoveries prove to be more spectacular than anything we dare imagine. There is no doubt these discoveries influence and inspire storytellers. Their very existence serves as cause to dream bigger and open our minds to new possibilities beyond what we think we know." (Knoll, 2011)

Reference

Borucki, W., Knoll, J., 2011, NASA`S KEPLER DISCOVERY CONFIRMS FIRST PLANET ORBITING TWO STARS, (http://www.nasa.gov/kepler) Retrieved 2011.


Star War Interviews with Judyth Piazza on The American Perspective Radio Program:

Judyth Piazza chats with Daniel Logan, Star Wars

Judyth Piazza chats with Ray Park, Star Wars

Judyth Piazza chats with Kenny Baker, R2-D2 - Star Wars

Judyth Piazza sits down with Billy D. Williams, Star Wars