• Lia N. Rovira

IRL 'Tatooine': New Star Wars-Like Planet with Two Suns Found

Have you ever wished you could jam with the cantina band in Mos Eisley, or watch a double sunset from a moisture farm? Well, you might be in luck, because a group of researchers just announced they’ve spotted debris that might have come from a rocky planet that’s part of a binary star system - a system with two stars instead of one.

In other words: Star Wars is (sort-of) real, and we’ve found signs of a Tatooine-like planet.

Now, we’ve found a planet in a binary star system before. Astronomers discovered the first one back in 2011, and they’ve found a few others since then. But even though those discoveries led to plenty of headlines saying we’d found Tatooine, you wouldn’t want to start a moisture farm on any of those other planets because they’re all gas giants.

In binary systems, the gravitational pull from both stars can make it hard for rocks to clump together to form rocky planets. So astronomers thought that a real Tatooine might not even be possible - until now.

Using two telescopes in Chile – the Gemini Observatory South telescope and the Very Large Telescope – the researchers found evidence of shattered asteroids around a star system far, far away, called SDSS-1557. At first, the astronomers thought they were just looking at a single white dwarf: a small, very dense star, about 1000 light years away.

But then they realized there was also a brown dwarf, a smaller, sort of “failed star” that’s too small to begin fusing hydrogen and helium. The brown dwarf was hiding among the dust and debris around the white dwarf. The white dwarf’s gravitational pull is strong enough to drag in some of the debris around it, which changes the wavelengths of light the star emits.

Using special instruments on the telescopes, the team was able to track and analyze those wavelengths, which can say a lot about what’s in the debris. So far, the stuff we’ve found flying around in binary systems has been mostly made of ice and carbon. But it looks like these asteroids are rich in elements like silicon and magnesium, which also make up rocky planets like Earth and Mars.

Based on the amount of debris they measured falling into the white dwarf star, they think the asteroid it originally came from was at least 4 kilometers (~2.5 miles) wide. If it’s possible for such a large, rocky asteroid to form, that means many large asteroids could have come together and formed a rocky planet, too!

The astronomers plan to use the Hubble Space Telescope to take a closer look next year.

No word yet if the astronomers also saw what looks like a strange, small moon among the debris, but we’re not complaining about that one. Even if it were real, the Death Star still probably wouldn’t be the most dangerous thing in the universe.

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Source: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest on the subject. Chin, Stefan. "Evidence for Tatooine!" SciShow Space, YouTube. 3 March 2017. Web video.

Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "IRL 'Tatooine': New Star Wars-Like Planet with Two Suns Found." SkyFeed. 21 Nov, 2018. Web article.

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