Kepler Telescope Spots Largest Known Two-Star Planet


Artist’s depiction of NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

NASA scientists reported that Kepler space observatory has detected the largest known planet to feature two suns in its skies. Although the news may remind us of the famous Tatooine planet in the Star Wars saga, scientists explained that the newly detected planet is a Jupiter-like world not a rocky world like the fictional planet.

Researchers described Kepler-1647b as a gas giant very similar in mass and size to the largest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter. The newly found planet also has an unusually wide orbit as it needs 1,107 days to complete a full orbit around both its host stars.

The research team also noted that Kepler-1647b is located within the habitable zone, so its moons may be suitable places to harbor life as the planet itself is too gaseous to allow liquid water on its surface.

NASA’s Kepler space observatory’s main goal is to hunt for alien worlds that may have Earth-like features and could sustain life. The space telescope was put on orbit in March 2009 and entered service in May 2009.

Kepler can detect planets in the habitable zone by looking at their host stars and the variations in their brightness. These variations, scientists explain, are signs that an object such as a planet is transiting across the stars’ surface. If the spacecraft manages to identify three such transits, NASA scientists conclude that they found an exoplanet.

Jerome Orosz, one of the researchers involved in the identification of Kepler-1647b, noted that it is strange that such a large alien world took so long to be confirmed. Orosz believes that this may have something to do with its orbital period which is unusually long.

Astronomers said that the gas giant, which is located 3,700 light-years from Earth, has two host stars each the size of or own star. Yet, the two stars do not have the same size; one is a bit smaller than the other one. But both stars are about the same age as the Sun.

Yet, scientists were not surprised to find two suns within a single solar system. About half of stars similar to our sun are located in binary systems, scientists said. Yet, it is surprising that a binary system hosts a Jupiter-like exoplanet. Other known binary systems are homes to Saturn-sized or smaller planets.

Nevertheless, NASA scientists believe that the newly-found Jupiter-sized world is just the “tip of the iceberg.” They believe that there are a lot more similar planets moving around their host stars along long orbital paths.

Image Source: Wikimedia


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