Scientists have discovered a new exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of a two-star system. Any being living on the surface of the planet would have a similar double-star view to what is seen on Tatooine in the movie "Star Wars."
This is the tenth "circumbinary" planet discovered by NASA's Kepler Mission, San Francisco State University reported. The findings suggest there could be more potentially habitable planets in similar systems that are still waiting to be discovered.
"If we had observed this planet earlier or later than we did, we would have seen nothing and assumed there was no planet there," said Stephen Kane, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University. "That suggests that there are a lot more of these kinds of planets than we are thinking, and we're just looking at the wrong time."
The planet, dubbed Kepler-453b, is influenced by the gravitational pull of two stars its orbit moves like a "spinning top." This means the planet's transits in front of other stars that allow scientists to spot it are only visible about 9 percent of the time. If the researchers had not spotted Kepler-453b when they did, there would not have been another chance to see it until 2066.
Kepler-453b blocked 0.5 percent of its host stars' light during its transit, which allowed the scientists to calculate that the planet's radius is 6.2 times that of Earth's. The planet is most likely a gas giant as opposed to having a rocky terrains, so even though it orbits within the habitable zone of its host star it is not likely to hold life. The planet could, however, have rocky moons that host aliens within the binary star system.
"We didn't know circumbinary systems could exist until Kepler came along, and since then we've been finding them in larger numbers," Kane said.