We all remember the iconic scene from Star Wars: A New Hope—Luke Skywalker, an untrained Jedi, watches twin suns set on his home planet, Tatooine. Little does he know what awaits. The arresting double sunset represents the last peaceful moment Skywalker has—before his parents’ deaths, before he learns the identity of his father, before he realizes who and how important he is. But in that scene, viewers are thinking one thing: wow, two suns setting at the same time looks awesome!
Kepler-16. Credit: NASA
Perhaps one day, we will be able to view such a sunset in real life. Perhaps some other life form out there already is.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield, University College London, and the University of Warwick have discovered the existence of a planetary system with two suns—a brown dwarf and a white dwarf —approximately 1,000 light-years away. This isn’t the first time astronomers have found a two-sun system. Back in 2011, Kepler found another planet, Kepler-16, orbiting two stars about 200 light-years away. But this planet, as well as all others found orbiting around double stars at a great distance, are thought to be uninhabitable—they’re cold, icy, and made of gas, like Jupiter and Saturn.
Scientists have reason to believe that planets in the newly discovered SDSS 1557 system might be different—more Earthlike, rich with metals, silicon, and magnesium. Clues about the system’s planetary composition lie in the rocky asteroid debris, which suggests that perhaps one or more of the planets in SDSS 1557 might be terrestrial, rather than a gas giant. These remains set this discovery apart from those involving other binary star systems.
Asteroid debris around Vega. Credit: NASA
Scientists study asteroids in our solar system in order to gain insight into the formation of Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus, and they hope to do the same here. Astronomers will use the Hubble telescope to continue observing the SDSS 1557 system, hoping to obtain conclusive evidence that the debris they spotted is indeed rocky. Hopefully, they’ll keep an eye out for an X-wing starfighter while they’re at it.