Astronomers discover planet straight out of Star Wars


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The Independent Online

It's enough to make Luke Skywalker feel homesick. A planet has been discovered 200 million light years away that orbits two stars rather than one, enjoying a double sunset just like the fictional world the Star Wars hero hails from.

Unlike the imaginary desert planet Tatooine in George Lucas' 1977 sci-fi classic, Nasa says the new deep-space find, named Kepler-16b, is cold and gaseous, and similar in size to Saturn.

The double-sun effect was discovered by astronomers analysing the brightness of the two stars in their telescopes. They noticed the stars dimmed even when not eclipsing one another, signalling the presence of a planet passing in front of them.

Celebrating "the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet", Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said Kepler-16b highlighted the diversity of the universe.

The research was presented at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and is detailed in the journal Science.