Until now such a circumbinary planet‘s (a planet orbiting two stars) has only been known of in science fiction. One such example is ”Tatooine” in the film Star Wars.
Using public data attained from NASA’s Kepler mission, astronomers announced the discovery of two new ‘double-star’ planet systems – Kepler-34 and Kepler-35. This was announced at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas, Jan. 8-12, 2012.
An artist’s rendition of the Kepler-35 planetary system, in which a Saturn-size planet orbits a pair of stars. Kepler-35b orbits its smaller and cooler host stars than our sun every 131 days, and the stellar pair orbits each other ever 21 days .
“This work further establishes that such ‘two sun’ planets are not rare exceptions, but may in fact be common, with many millions existing in our galaxy,” said William Welsh of San Diego State University and Kepler participating scientist who led the study. “This discovery broadens the hunting ground for systems that could support life.”
The two new planets, named Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b, are both gaseous Saturn-size planets. The planets reside too close to their parent stars to be in the “habitable zone” (the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface).
At 4,900 and 5,400 light-years from Earth, located in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b are among the most distant planets discovered. The findings are described in a new study published today (Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012) in the journal Nature.