NASA’s Kepler telescope discovered an uncommon planet that is located some 200 light years away from Earth with two suns.
Its about 34 years after George Lucas' movie Star Wars portrayed the existence of a planet Tatooine with a double sunset that the existence of a planet with two suns become a reality.
The new circumbinary planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most Tatooine-like planet yet found in our galaxy, though unlike Tatooine, it is cold and gaseous and thought to be made up of about half rock and half gas.
The planet is not thought to harbor life like the fictional Tatooine, which was portrayed as having two sunsets in the Star Wars series.
The new discovery reveals that various uncommon planets exist in our galaxy, NASA said.
The planet is about the size of Saturn and, according to the space agency, previous research did hint at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation remained mysterious until the Kepler mission's latest discovery.
Researchers are uncertain whether life exists on the planet as the temperatures on its surface can vary by about 50 degrees, between roughly minus 100 degrees and minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
The two stars circle each other every 41 days, in the constellation Cygnus. For every 229 days, the planet circles its twin stars where one has about 69 percent the mass of the Sun while the other has only 20 percent.
Laurance Doyle of the SETI Institute in Mountain View led a research team that used data provided by the Kepler telescope, which looks for Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface.
The planet, which has an orbital period of less than a year, is still outside the habitable zone of the stars as the stars are much dimmer than our Sun.
The stars are 20 and 69 percent as massive as the Sun, a research team, studying the planet, led by Laurance Doyle of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said in their report published online in the Sept. 16 issue of journal Science.
The new planet in the Kepler-16 system, a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other from our vantage point on the Earth, was detected by NASA scientists. In the new planet, a primary eclipse occurs when the smaller star partially blocks the larger star, while a secondary eclipse occurs when the smaller star is completely blocked by the larger star.
Astronomers, during the initial stage of discovery, observed that even when the stars were not eclipsing each other, the brightness of the system dipped hinting at a third body.
The stars were in different positions in their orbit each time the third body passed when the additional dimming in brightness reappeared at irregular intervals, the astronomers said. This showed the third body was circling, not just one, but both stars, in a wide circumbinary orbit.
The research team used data from the Kepler space telescope, which measures dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, to search for transiting planets.
The $600 million Kepler space telescope is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet.
Even though the planet doesn't harbor life, yet space agencies could plan for a rocket mission in the future to know whether it is the same as Tatooine in Star Wars.