Star Wars, meet science. NASA announced today that it has discovered the first "circumbinary planet"--a planet orbiting two stars--in a galaxy far, far away (200 light years from Earth, to be precise). While the planet's officially called Kepler 16b, astronomers are already referring to it as Tatooine, after the home planet of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, which also had two suns (NASA even invited John Knoll of Industrial Light and Magic, the special-effects company behind Star Wars, to today's announcement). The agency points out, however, that there are important differences between Tatooine and Kepler 16b, which "is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life," though its discovery does demonstrate the "diversity of planets in our galaxy. "
The photo above is an artistic rendering of the planet. Here's another, which shows Kepler 16b and the eccentric orbits of the two stars it circles (labeled A and B).
Here's a video showing how the orbit works:
This is a heady time for sci-fi fans. Earlier this week NASA announced that a death star is bombarding a planet about 880 light years from Earth with x-rays. We shudder to think what NASA will anounce next.
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