Star Wars planets could be common

Planets like Tatooine in Star Wars really could exist in the galaxy, astronomers have discovered. The worlds are special because any aliens living there can gaze upon double sunsets just like Luke Skywalker in the hit movies.

Nasa impression of a double sunsetScientists using a Nasa space telescope discovered that other solar systems are just as common around twin stars as around single ones like the sun.

The heat-seeking observatory, called Spitzer, can spot disks of dust around distant stars – the debris believed to be left over after planets and asteroids have formed.

Chief investigator David Trilling, of the University of Arizona, said: “There appears to be no bias against having planetary system formation in binary systems. There could be countless planets out there with two or more suns.”

It means anyone standing on a planet there could watch two fiery balls dip below the horizon, just like on Tatooine. A new paper revealing the findings appears in the April 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

In their survey, the most comprehensive ever undertaken, Dr Trilling’s team turned the Spitzer telescope on 69 double star systems lying 50 to 200 light-years from Earth. All the stars are younger and more massive than our own middle-aged sun.

The results showed that about 40 percent of the binary systems had disks – slightly more than in a sample of single stars. This told the astronomers that planetary systems are at least as common around binary stars as they are around single stars.

The biggest shock for the team was the discovery that disks were even more frequent around the closest pairs of stars observed. That makes Tatooine-style sunsets even more likely.

Dr Trilling said: “We were very surprised to find that the tight group had more disks. This could mean that planet formation favours tight binaries over single stars, but it could also mean tight binaries are just dustier. Future observations should provide a better answer.” Picture: A Nasa artist’s impression of a double sunset.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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