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Kepler-16b: A Lonely Planet With Double Workload

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Kepler-16b is the only world known to be orbiting a binary star system. NASA/JPL-Caltech

“If you could stand on the surface of Kepler-16b, you’d have two shadows.

At sunset, you would see an orange star about the size of the sun and next to it a much fainter red star. As the stars slipped toward the horizon, they would change places in the sky, like partners in a square dance.

You would not need to be Luke Skywalker visiting his home planet of Tatooine in the movie “Star Wars” to watch the twin sunset.

The only science fiction in this story is how to make the 200 light-year journey to Kepler-16, a binary star system jointly sharing the Saturn-sized planet, Kepler-16b…

From a distance about as far as Venus orbits the sun, Kepler-16b circles both its parent stars in 221 days. The stars, which on average have about 21 million miles between them, fly around each other about every 41 days.

The whole system is perfectly aligned to Kepler’s viewing spot, with the bodies crossing paths so that tiny amounts of their radiating starlight regularly, repeatedly and predictably vanish and reappear as the stars and the planet fly past one another.”

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