Science / Space

Binary sunset

It’s one of those really super iconic images. Two suns in the sky, both moving toward sunset.

Still from Star Wars showing two suns in Tatooine's sky

That would require a planetary system — well, at least one planet — orbiting two stars at once in a binary system. Is it possible? Fortunately for fans of both the iconic scene and scientific accuracy, yes, it looks like it is possible, at least in theory. There are definitely planets like this out there, known as circumbinary planets. Whether their numbers include small rocky Earth-like planets is a completely different question, though: planets orbiting two stars have a whole different set of circumstances to cope with — the heat of two suns, the gravitational interactions of the suns with each other and with the putative planet, etc, etc.

From the circumbinary planets we know already, so far they’ve tended to be gas giants or made up of ice and rock, and considerably larger than Earth. Kepler-1647b does at least sit in the stars’ habitable zone, so there’s hope. But it seems we’re still looking for a Tatooine…

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