An Exoplanet is Definitely Orbiting Two Stars

Artist's impression of Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars - what's called a circumbinary planet. The planet, which can be seen in the foreground, was discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Remember that iconic scene in Star Wars, where a young Skywalker steps out onto the surface of Tatooine and watches the setting of two suns? As it turns out, this may be what it is like for lifeforms on the exoplanet known as Kepler-16, a rocky planet that orbits in a binary star system. Originally discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission, an international team of astronomers recently confirmed that this planet orbits two stars at once – what is known as a circumbinary planet.

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NASA Exoplanet “Travel Posters” Aim To Help With Space Trip Planning

A NASA "travel poster" touting the benefits of exoplanet Kepler-16b, which has two Suns. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What beauty, and what awesome travel slogans! NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has created a set of “Exoplanet Travel Posters” to bring you — at least in your imagination — to actual exoplanets.

Whether you have a fancy for skydiving, or doing astronomy with two Suns, it appears there is a spot to whet your imagination. We have another example of the fantastic artwork below.

You can download all three posters so far in glorious high-definition here. These are NASA’s descriptions for each of the worlds described so far:

Kepler-186f is the first Earth-size planet discovered in the potentially ‘habitable zone’ around another star, where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. Its star is much cooler and redder than our Sun. If plant life does exist on a planet like Kepler-186f, its photosynthesis could have been influenced by the star’s red-wavelength photons, making for a color palette that’s very different than the greens on Earth.

Twice as big in volume as the Earth, HD 40307g straddles the line between “Super-Earth” and “mini-Neptune” and scientists aren’t sure if it has a rocky surface or one that’s buried beneath thick layers of gas and ice. One thing is certain though: at eight time the Earth’s mass, its gravitational pull is much, much stronger.

A NASA "travel poster" showing off how fun skydiving would be on HD 40307g, a planet that is somewhere in size between a "super-Earth" or "mini-Neptune." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A NASA “travel poster” showing off how fun skydiving would be on HD 40307g, a planet that is somewhere in size between a “super-Earth” or “mini-Neptune.” Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Like Luke Skywalker’s planet “Tatooine” in Star Wars, Kepler-16b orbits a pair of stars. Depicted here as a terrestrial planet, Kepler-16b might also be a gas giant like Saturn. Prospects for life on this unusual world aren’t good, as it has a temperature similar to that of dry ice. But the discovery indicates that the movie’s iconic double-sunset is anything but science fiction.

The posters are not only clever, but appear to be homages to the Work Projects Administration’s “See America” posters of the 1930s and 1940s, which you can browse through on the Library of Congress’ website.