Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. PyleUS astronomers say they have discovered a planet that is orbiting two Suns.
This planet, called Kepler-16b, is a freezing cold world about the size of Saturn, orbiting two parent Suns in a near perfect circle about 200 light years away.
The planet was glimpsed with the US space agency's Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars, according to the research published in the journal Science.
While astronomers have previously glimpsed planets they believed were orbiting two stars, they had never before seen one actually passing in front of its two Suns so this discovery offers the first proof.
"Kepler-16b is the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet — a planet orbiting not one, but two stars," said co-author Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
If there were people on Kepler-16b, they could relax to the view of a double sunset, but such a scenario is highly unlikely due to the planet's extreme frigid surface temperature of -73 to -101 Celsius.
The chill is likely due to the fact that even though the planet has two Suns, which it orbits every 229 days at a distance of 105 million kilometres, they are smaller and cooler than our single Sun.
One of Kepler-16b's Suns is 20 percent as massive as ours, and the other is 69 percent as massive.
While the planet orbits them, the two Suns dance with each other in an "eccentric 41-day orbit," the study said.
The study was led by Kepler scientist Laurance Doyle of the California-based SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute.
Top view diagram of the Kepler-16 system. The orbits of the Kepler-16 components are shown in gray curves. The sizes of the bodies are in current proportions to one another, but on a scale 20 times larger that the orbital scale.
The components of the ternary system Kepler-16 in transit. The late-K star (large and orange) and M-dwarf star (reddish and smaller) and the exoplanet (dark) are shown to their relative size at the time of a transit. Sunspot activity on Kepler-16A was indeed detected by Kepler. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
Reference to article written by Dr. Franck Marchis, SETI Institute .
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