Astronomers are welcoming a newly discovered planet.
Despite the humdrum name Kepler-1647b, the Jupiter-sized gas giant is the largest planet yet found that orbits two stars.
“This is what we call a circumbinary planet,” said Lehigh University astrophysicist Joshua Pepper, who along with researchers at Swarthmore College and elsewhere, collaborated on the findings. “That just means a planet that is orbiting two stars at once.”
So if you found yourself on the surface of the planet, “and you looked up into the sky, then you would see two stars in the sky — two suns in the sky — like the Tatooine scene from Star Wars,” he said.
But Luke Skywalker is unlikely to have resided there, even though the planet made of gas is inside the “habitable zone,” the sweet spot of not too cold and not too hot.
Researchers don’t have any pictures of this planet 3,700 light-years away from Earth. It was discovered by studying light measurements captured with the Kepler space telescope. When the planet passes in front of a star, the glow dims ever so slightly. This particular finding took a while to confirm because it takes 1,107 days to complete an orbit.
While data provided by Kepler has been responsible for confirming more than 2,300 planets, Pepper said this discovery remains significant.
“It is true that there are thousands of planets known, but what we are really doing is we are pushing the boundaries of science,” he said. “It is part of the process of expanding the world of what we know … I think this is a really great discovery.”