A Moon With Two Suns: Making Art from Science

by Jason Major on January 14, 2013

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A view of Kepler 47c and binary stars. ©Digital Drew. All rights reserved.

What would it look like on a hypothetical icy moon orbiting the exoplanet Kepler 47c? Perhaps something like this.

This is an illustration by an artist who goes by the name Digital Drew on Flickr. Drew creates landscapes of imagined alien worlds orbiting stars (and sometimes planets) that actually exist in the Universe. With 3D software, a little science and a lot of imagination, Drew shows us what skies might look like on other planets.

Kepler 47c (KOI-3154.02) is a Neptune-sized exoplanet orbiting a binary star pair 4,600 light-years away. It is part of the first circumbinary system ever discovered — one of at least two planets orbiting a pair of stars. In the image here, Kepler 47c is seen at upper left.

681737main_K47system_diagram_4x3_946-710What makes this exoplanet so exciting is that it is within the habitable zone around the stellar pair. So even though the planet itself may be a gas giant and thus not particularly suitable for life, any moons it has in orbit just might be.

While its slightly smaller planetary companion Kepler 47b orbits much too closely to the twin suns for water to exist as a liquid, 47c’s orbit is much farther out, completing one revolution every 303 days. Mainly illuminated by a star like our Sun but about 15% dimmer, this is a region where you could very well find a large rocky moon with conditions similar to Earth’s.

Fly a spacecraft over its higher elevations and you just might see a scene like this, a double sunset over a glacier-filled valley with a crescent gas giant dominating the sky. (Makes one wonder what the balmier regions might look like!)

“Unlike our sun, many stars are part of multiple-star systems where two or more stars orbit one another. The question always has been — do they have planets and planetary systems? This Kepler discovery proves that they do. In our search for habitable planets, we have found more opportunities for life to exist.”

– William Borucki, Kepler mission principal investigator (Sept. 2012)

And as more giant planets are discovered within their system’s habitable zones, the more there’s a chance that habitable moons could exist — or perhaps even be more common than habitable planets! Just recently the citizen science project Planet Hunters announced the potential exoplanet PH2 b, a Jupiter-sized world that orbits within a habitable zone. In our Solar System Jupiter has lots of moons; PH2 b could very well have a large number of moons of its own, any number of them with liquid water on their surfaces and temperatures “just right” for life.

Read more: Exciting Potential for Habitable Exomoons

While it will likely be quite some time before we see any direct observations of an actual exomoon, and possibly never from one, we must rely on the work of artists like Digital Drew to illustrate the many possibilities that exist.

See more of Drew’s work on his Flickr page here, and read more about the discovery of the Kepler 47 system here.

Inset image: Diagram of the Kepler 47 system compared to the inner Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

newSteveZodiac January 14, 2013 at 2:08 PM

Excellent, I like visualisations and to know they are accurate makes them all the better. i wonder if Drew’s software can cope with the surface of a planet inside a star cluster.

mmurdoch January 14, 2013 at 7:13 PM

Typically, not enough care is taken to indicate that these are artists conceptions. For example, the featured image of this article is captioned “A view of Kepler 47c…”. Most people get the presentation “we just discovered a planet and it looks like this”. Now there is a 3Dmax cottage industry of people making planets when what we really have is light curves and spectroscopy, and a few direct images of dots. Visualization is helpful and fun, it’s click bait, but it also can be very misleading.

How many people “don’t believe in science”? A huge percentage. It’s like pushing a boulder uphill. A lot of people don’t get scientific method or how to look at the world in that way. At the same time, this is like a golden age of discovery in space exploration and direct imaging. When you blur the lines between CGI and reality it causes people to dismiss science altogether. They think Cassini is BS too!

Gary W. January 14, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Some people simply aren’t worth worrying about. There will always be people who don’t care enough to get it. The latest happenings of Britney Spears, and Lindsey Lohan are more important to them.

Jason Major January 16, 2013 at 3:37 AM

“How many people ‘don’t believe in science’?” This site/article isn’t for them. It’s for everyone else who appreciates educated visualizations.

A read of the first several sentences clearly states what’s portrayed here. There’s no misleading involved.

mmurdoch January 16, 2013 at 6:42 AM

No it’s a great site, and a great visualization. Great article, and you are correct, the topic is visualizations, so one would have to be dense not to realize that. I’m just saying the pic needs more dragons, that’s all.

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