Scientists Discover A Giant Planet That Orbits Two Suns

Posted: Jun 14 2016, 1:38am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 14 2016, 11:46pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Discover a Giant Planet that Orbits Two Suns
Artist's impression of Kepler-1647 b. Credit: Lynette Cook

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Kepler-1647b is the largest known planet with a pair of suns.

Planets with double sunsets, as mentioned in the movie Stars Wars years ago, is no longer a fictional concept. Scientists have already confirmed the existence of such worlds in outer space. Now they claim they have discovered the largest planet outside the solar system that orbits two suns.

The newfound planet, named Kepler-1647b, is 3,700 light years away from the Earth and has two suns similar to our own planet. One of them is larger and the other is relatively smaller while the planet itself resembles Jupiter in terms of both mass and diameter.

Planets that orbit two stars are called circumbinary planets or informally Tatooine planets inspired by Luke Skywalker’s homeland in “Star Wars.” The new planet does not look ideal to harbor life as we know it. It’s almost entirely made of gas despite the fact that it is experiencing right amount of sunlight and heat needed to maintain liquid water on its surface.

Researchers used Kepler space telescope and applied transit method to detect the planet. Transit method is a technique that takes into account the irregular dips in brightness as a planet passes in front of the star and momentarily blocks some of the light generated by the star.

“But finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars. The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth.” Coauthor William Welsh from San Diego State University said.

To determine whether it’s actually a circumbinary planet is still a stiff challenge. It required more data and several years of analysis to confirm that the transit was indeed caused by a planet with a pair of binary stars.

But what took researchers so long to confirm that the newly discovered planet is the biggest circumninary planet to date. Apparently, it seems easier to spot a giant planet than a small one. Researchers say that the orbital period of Kepler-1647b is so long that they could not immediately declare it a circumbinary planet.

“The planet takes 1,107 days (just over 3 years) to orbit its host stars, the longest period of any confirmed transiting exoplanet found so far,” says NASA blog. “The planet is also so much further away from its stars than any other circumbinary planet, breaking with the tendency circumbinary planets to have close-in orbits.”

All these unique features make this planet an interesting and important suspect to understand the population of large, long-period circumbinary planets.

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