Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Planet with Two Suns: Kepler 16b

The existence of a world with a double sunset, as portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 30 years ago, is now scientific fact. NASA's Kepler mission has made the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet -- a planet orbiting two stars -- 200 light-years from Earth.

Kepler 16b Orbit

The planet's orbit is very similar to that of the planet Venus in our own solar system. Kepler 16b orbits its host stars at a distance of around 65 million miles (104 million km) and takes 229 days to make one complete orbit.

Quick Facts

  • Kepler 16b is 200 light years from Earth.
  • Kepler 16 is a binary star system comprising of Kepler 16A and Kepler 16B, note that Kepler 16B is the star and Kepler 16b is the planet.
  • Kepler 16A is an orange dwarf with 69% the mass of the sun, while Kepler 16B is a red dwarf with 20% the mass of the sun.
  • The two stars are separated by a distance of 20.5 million miles (33 million km) .
  • The combined energy produced by the two stars is much less than that produced by our own sun.
  • Planets that orbit two stars are called circumbinary planets.
  • Kepler 16b is so far the first and only example of a confirmed circumbinary planet.
  • Kepler 16b is a gas giant very similar in mass and radius to the planet Saturn.
  • Kepler 16b lies just outside the habitable zone with estimated surface temperatures as low as -100C (-150F).

Mass: 105 x Earth
Diameter: 8.5 x Earth
Distance from host stars: 65 million miles (104 million km)
Orbital Period: 229 days
Atmosphere: Similar to the gas giants of our solar system, primarily composed of hydrogen.
Temperature: Surface temperatures of around -100C (-150F) 
Gravity: 1.5 x Earth

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