Tatooine-Like Planets With Two Suns Are Actually Good Candidates For Life

A computer model found that under the right conditions, Luke Skywalker’s home world would, in fact, be a good place to live.

|
Apr 12 2017, 7:46pm

Star Wars/Disney/Lucasfilm

I'm just going to get this out of the way: I'm more of a Star Trek girl. But even I get excited whenever astronomers find a new planet with two suns, just like Tatooine, the desert planet from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker grew up.

It's happened more than once, but now NASA has discovered something even more exciting: we might actually be able to live on such a planet.

Using a computer model, researchers tested out how an Earth-like planet—one covered in water, with a similar atmosphere, and roughly our size—would do if it was orbiting binary stars. They found that, at the right distance, it would be habitable, according to a study published last week in Nature Communications.

"This means that double-star systems of the type studied here are excellent candidates to host habitable planets, despite the large variations in the amount of starlight hypothetical planets in such a system would receive," said Max Popp, associate research scholar at Princeton University, in a press release.

If an Earth-like planet was orbiting at a distance of 1.165-1.195 au (which stands for astronomical unit, and is equal to 149.6 million kilometers—the average distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the sun) from the center of mass of the two stars, it would have a pretty comfortable climate, with liquid water and fairly constant temperatures, according to the study. The study also showed that, at this distance, the planet would have less cloud coverage, so you'd be able to get your double-sun tan on pretty regularly.

This doesn't mean any of the Tatooine-like planets they've already found could support life right now. The planet in the star system they were looking at, Kepler 35b, is eight time the size of Earth and has an orbit of 131.5 days, so it doesn't fit into this model. But there could be other planets we haven't detected yet, and the researchers said that it proves we shouldn't write off Tatooines when we come across them.

"Our research is motivated by the fact that searching for potentially habitable planets requires a lot of effort, so it is good to know in advance where to look," said Siegfried Eggl, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press release. "We show that it's worth targeting double-star systems."

Stories