Five Star Wars-style ‘double star systems’ found that could host life


Two suns rise above the fictional desert planet of Tatooine. (Credits: Lucasfilm/Fox/Kobal/REX)

Any Star Wars fan will recognise an iconic shot of two suns glowing in the skies of Tatooine — Luke Skywalker’s home planet.

But new research shows this strange world isn’t as far from reality as you might think.

Scientists think they’ve found five double star systems that may be able to support life.

The team from New York University Abu Dhabi and the University of Washington in the US used complex maths to show the systems have permanent ‘habitable zones.’

Planets in these regions, often known as ‘Goldilocks zones’, are just the right temperature to keep surface water in liquid form.

Liquid water is needed to support life as we know it.

The systems, which sit in the Lyra and Cygnus constellations, lie between 2,764 and 5,933 light years from Earth.

They’re called Kepler-34, -35, -38, -64 and -413 after the Kepler space telescope, which searched the Milky Way for exoplanets from 2009 to 2018.

One of the systems — Kepler-64 — has four stars orbiting each other at its centre.

Hot targets in the search for Earth 2.0

The systems are all home to at least one giant planet at least as big as Neptune.

This shows that hosting one of these large planets doesn’t prevent a double-star system from containing other planets that may support life.

The presence of a giant planet can destabilise the orbits of other worlds in the same system, said University of Washington researcher Dr Siegfried Eggl.

This can shrink a Goldilocks zone substantially, and even make it impossible for a system to host habitable planets.

Study author Prof Ian Dobbs-Dixon said: ‘We’ve known for a while that binary star systems without giant planets have the potential to harbor habitable worlds.

‘What we have shown here is that in a large fraction of those systems’ Earth-like planets can remain habitable even in the presence of giant planets.’

Dr Eggl added: ‘Of course, there is the possibility that life exists outside the habitable zone or on moons orbiting the giant planets themselves, but that may be less desirable real-estate for us.’

The Kepler space telescope searched for exoplanets from 2009 to 2018 (Credit: Nasa)

Of all the double star systems they investigated, the team think Kepler-38 is the most likely to host a potentially habitable planet.

New York University Abu Dhabi researcher Dr Nikolaos Georgakarakos said the system lies around 3970 light years from Earth and contains a Neptune-sized planet.

He added: ‘Our study confirms that even binary star systems with giant planets are hot targets in the search for Earth 2.0. Watch out Tatooine, we are coming!’

The team’s research was published in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences on Thursday.


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