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'Star Wars’ Tatooine Planet Could Actually Be Real and Habitable

Apr 13, 2017 01:15 PM EDT
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Kepler-35
Kepler-35 is one of the planetary double-star systems discovered to exist. But could it host life? Scientists say it can.
(Photo : Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt via Getty Images)

The iconic two-sun home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker might actually be out there -- and if it really is, Tatooine might actually be habitable. While the fictional "Star Wars" planet is a barren desert world, scientists have discovered that an Earth-sized planet orbiting a double-star system could support life.

According to a report from Phys Org, the key is in the distance. If an Earth-sized planet of a double-star system is at the right distance from its two stars, it could certainly host life. Such a planet in a specific range of distance away wouldn't even have to contain deserts and instead be a habitable world covered in water.

The Kepler-35 system is one of the binary star systems in the universe, a system that was spotted by NASA's famed Kepler space telescope. The two stars -- dubbed Kepler-35A and Kepler-35B -- actually do host the planet Kepler-35b, which is a giant that's roughly eight times the size of Earth.

For their study, Max Popp and Siegfried Eggl designed a model for the Kepler-35 system, specifically creating a hypothetical water-covered planet the size of Earth orbiting the two stars in a period of 341 to 380 days. The scientists analyzed how the climate of such a planet would behave as part of a double-star system, discovering that it would be likely for it to retain water for a long time.

"This means that double-star systems of the type studied here are excellent candidates to host habitable planets, despite the large variations in the amount of starlight hypothetical planets in such a system would receive," Popp said.

Popp and Eggl focused on the habitable zone, a region around a system's star (or stars) where a planet is most likely to contain liquid water. According to their model, a water-covered planet on the far edge of Kepler-35's habitable zone would experience a lot of variation in its surface temperature, with the global average rising and falling by as much as two degrees Celsius throughout the year.

On the other hand, a planet at the inner edge of the habitable zone -- a distance closer to the stars -- would see global average surface temperatures generally stay consistent throughout the year.

Planets outside the habitable zone are unlikely to sustain life as those beyond the outer edge would end up completely covered in ice at some point, while those nearer to the stars than the inner edge would create something like a runaway greenhouse effect.

"Our research is motivated by the fact that searching for potentially habitable planets requires a lot of effort, so it is good to know in advance where to look," Eggl explained. "We show that it's worth targeting double-star systems."

So far, the planets spotted in double-star systems have been large and gaseous.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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