Good news everyone! If you’ve been in the market for some real estate with a nice climate and a pretty sweet view of two suns, then you may be in luck. The Kepler space telescope has just found a pretty choice spot around a binary pair and it’s looking like the best chance yet to get the Tatooine real estate you’ve always wanted. This isn’t the first time astronomers have found a planetary system orbiting a binary pair, but it is the first one that could possibly harbor life.
Over the past year, the Kepler mission has surprised scientists by finding numerous planets in stable orbits around binary pairs, something that was once thought to be extremely rare if it was even possible. All of those planets so far have been several Jupiter masses, mostly outside their star’s habitable zones, and cosmic loners that orbit their pairs by themselves. Once again, like Kepler is known to do, the space bound planet hunter has found a single planetary system that manages to throw all of these rules out the window.
Kepler 47 is a newly discovered binary pair that has a star the size of our own sun and another about one-third the size. Orbiting around the pair of stars are two planets, Kepler 47b and 47c. Kepler 47 is not only the first multi-planetary binary solar system found, but the closest orbiting planet, weighs in at just over 4 Earth masses. This makes Kepler 47b the first of its size found around any binary pair. The size might make life doable on 47b, but unfortunately it orbits far too close to its suns. Kepler 47c, is a Uranus-sized gas giant with a 303 day orbital cycle, but it rests squarely in the habitable zone of the binary system.
While Kepler 47c can’t support life as we know it, it does offer up an intriguing possibility. Due to its size it is entirely possible the 47c could have some pretty large moons, and thanks to its orbit, those moons could have liquid water on their surfaces. This means that 47c could be host to life-bearing moons like Pandora from Avatar. A Gas giant planet and two stars on the horizon, talk about a fantastic sunset.
Mars rovers might be neat, and Hubble takes some pretty pictures, but pound for pound they just can’t top the wealth of data we’ve gotten from Kepler over the past several years. While this still isn’t a hole in one for detecting a life bearing world, it is a huge step for SETI to follow up on in the search for alien life. SETI is already targeting Kepler candidates and this just adds one more target to their list which you can help investigate by going to SETILive.org.
Here is a comparison chart to give you a good idea of the Kepler 47 solar system in relation to our own. Notice that beautiful orange line smack dab in the middle of Kepler 47’s green zone.