Star Wars fans are going to sit up and take notice of this one. Bristol University researchers have reported that they may have found an explanation for how one planet orbiting two stars could actually exist.
Tattooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet in the popular Star War series of films by George Lucas, is a circumbinary planet, which means that it orbits two suns. Though long thought to be a fictional, new evidence shows that such a planet could actually exist.
The scientists of Bristol University has just discovered a planet, named Kepler-34(AB)b, whose orbit encompasses two stars, within the Kepler 34 system. This environment is a very hostile environment for a planet to grow in, because powerful gravitation from the two stars on the unstable phenomenon that help form planets usually cause collisions of materials that eventually break down the forming process.
"Taking into account data on collisions as well as the physical growth rate of planets, we found that Kepler 34(AB)b would have struggled to grow where we find it now," said lead researcher Dr. Zoe Leinhardt.
"Observations of circumbinary planets orbiting very close to the central stars have shown that planet formation may occur in a very hostile environment, where the gravitational pull from the binary should be very strong on the primordial protoplanetary disk," the study said. "Elevated impact velocities and orbit crossings from eccentricity oscillations are the primary contributors to high energy, potentially destructive collisions that inhibit the growth of aspiring planets."
Dr. Leinhardt and his team from Bristol's School of Physics conducted computer simulations of the stages of planet formation around a two-star system, and their study found that most of these planets may probably have formed away from the binary stars, and then eventually moved into the area afterwards.
"Circumbinary planets have captured the imagination of many science-fiction writers and film-makers - our research shows just how remarkable such planets are," said Stefan Lines, lead author of the study. "Understanding more about where they form will assist future exoplanet discovery missions in the hunt for earth-like planets in binary star systems."
The study was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, and just might further reinforce George Lucas's Jedi-like wisdom in the eyes of his loyal fans, since even before the Kepler space telescope discovered Kepler-34(AB)b, the Star Wars movies already projected them into the big screen - and in the hearts and minds of moviegoers - almost forty years ago.