When Star Wars was released in 1977 it set the bar for every sci-fi movie that followed. Set at first, on a unique Star Wars planet called Tatooine, in a galaxy far, far away the story followed the adventures of a rag-tag band of heroes who defy an evil Empire. The movie is filled with tons of cool action sequences. But the scene that really stood out shows a young Luke Skywalker lamenting his responsibilities at home when his heart yearned to be a pilot.
Luke’s frustration takes him outside into the harsh desert world of Tatooine, where audiences see the planets two suns beginning to set. As the protagonist silently gazes into the fading light, a calming piece of orchestral music starts to play – mirroring his emotion. In that wistful moment, Star Wars’ most famous planet seemed like the most magical, albeit imaginary place to ever exist. But now, scientists in the real world seem to have found one just like it.
In new planetary research, astronomers have detected the small gravitational pull that an exoplanet exerts on one of its host stars. According to Science Alert, this gives humanity a new tool to probe and explore these exotic worlds. This particular Star Wars-like planet is not a new discovery. Dubbed Kepler-16b and located 245 light-years away, its detection was announced in 2011. It was the first confirmed, unambiguous find of an exoplanet orbiting two stars in what scientists call a “circumbinary orbit.”
The discovery of a real-life Star Wars planet was so startling, George Lucas agreed with the astronomers’ to nickname the Saturn-sized planet Tatooine. Speaking about the find via NASA’s website, Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute and Director of the Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics, who discovered the planet using NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2011, said it was the first honest-to-goodness real planetary system where you would see the double sunset as two suns.
However, the discovery isn’t that new. In 1992, astronomers realized that all planetary systems were not alike. Several configurations have been spotted in our vast galaxy in recent times. And most of them are vastly different from our home system. They are called extrasolar or exoplanets, that orbit two stars just like the fictional Star Wars planet of Tatooine.
Since its discovery, astronomers have extensively studied the Star Wars planet in an attempt to understand how they exist. In basic terms, it has a lot to do with the planet’s gravitational pull, mass, and a disk of dust and gas called the protoplanetary disk. This is a type of residue left over from the star’s own formation and is believed to gather in clumps that form planets. However, this is a standard explanation that still doesn’t uncover how circumbinary planets can exist over a long time.
That’s because the presence of two stars interferes with the protoplanetary disk, and this prevents dust from agglomerating into planets, explained Amaury Triaud of the University of Birmingham. “The planet may have formed far from the two stars, where their influence is weaker, and then moved inwards in a process called disk-driven migration. Or we may find we need to revise our understanding of the process of planetary accretion, Triaud said about the Star Wars planet via Science Alert.