November 10 – 2012 – Astronomers Discover “Dancing” Planet With Two Suns: Well, it’s not exactly doing the Cha Cha, however Kepler-16b, as the planet is called, does continually rotate around two stars. One is orange/yellow like our Sun, and the others is red. From double sunrise to double sunset the show goes on, always changing.
Sometimes the orange sun rises first and at other times it’s the red one, although they are never far apart in the sky. You can see them moving past each other, casting double shadows and periodically crossing right in front of each other (see picture above).
It is the first planet, astronomers say, that has been definitely shown to be orbiting two stars at once, circling at a distance of 65 million miles a pair of stars that are themselves circling each other much more closely.
The official name of the new planet is Kepler 16b, but astronomers are already referring to it informally as Tatooine, after the home planet of Luke and Anakin Skywalker in the George Lucas “Star Wars” movies, which also had two suns. Reality has finally caught up with science fiction. Again, we see that the science is stranger and weirder than fiction.
While some double-star systems, of which there are billions in the galaxy, have been suspected of harboring planets, those smaller bodies have never been seen, until now.
By timing all the eclipses and transits of the planet and two stars, astronomers have been able to measure the sizes and masses of the three objects, with unusually high precision.
Tatooine is a ball of gas, about the size of Saturn, located in a star system about 200 light-years from Earth.
Because of the constantly changing positions of the three objects, temperatures on the planet can change by 50 degrees or more over the course of a few Earth days, from minus 100 to minus 150 Fahrenheit. The weather is like a cold day in Antarctica at best.
The Orange/Yellow star and the red star are about 20 million miles apart and produce two eclipses every 41 days as they take turns going in front of each other. One star is about two-thirds the mass of the Sun, the other about a fifth of the Sun.
In addition, there are smaller dips when the planet, which is about 65 million miles from the center of the system — about the distance of Venus from the Sun — passes in front of each of the stars during its 229-day orbit.
Tatooine (Kepler-16b) is visible to amateur astronomers in northern Asia, equipped with as little as an eight-inch telescope and an off-the-shelf device used to steady cameras. On June 28, 2012; Tatooine will cross in front of the brighter orange/yellow star. It should be a great show for amateur astronomers. (This was reposted on November 10, 2012 from the original June 28, 2012.)
The Master of Disaster