Until recently, in search of inhabited exoplanets, binary star systems were completely undeservedly ignored. Exoplanets with two suns have long become familiar places where the events of science fiction novels and films are unfolding.
One of the most striking and well-known examples of this is the desert planet Tatooine, the birthplace of Anakin and Luke Skywalker in the famous Star Wars movie saga. But only in 2011, NASA scientists using the Kepler space telescope were able to provide clear evidence that such exoplanets that revolve around two stars at once really exist. The planet discovered then was called Kepler-16b.
Despite the impressive discovery, scientists continued to believe that such planetary systems are extremely rare due to the complex attraction of two suns at once. But this opinion turned out to be completely wrong, writes astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter in an article for Space.com. This was revealed as a result of a new analysis of millions of stars and the discovery of exoplanets that have been recorded and cataloged by the ESA space telescope since 2013.
In fact, there are only two scenarios in which planets cope with the complex gravitational forces of two stars. If the stars are located very far apart, the planet can rotate around one star – then the other will be visible from the surface of the planet as a brightly shining star in the sky. In another case, both stars are close to each other – then the planet rotates at a safe distance around its double sun, as if it were just one celestial body.
These seemingly unbelievable stellar constellations are likely to occur much more often than might be expected.
Researchers have discovered during their targeted search already 300 exoplanets that could “boast” of double suns. Until now, astronomical science has actually ignored binary stars to search for (inhabited) exoplanets, because scientists considered their occurrence extremely unlikely in principle. In the case of discovered 300 planets, it is most likely a question of constellations, in which binary stars were incorrectly interpreted by the telescope as single stars.
Sutter speaks of decades of scientific confusion and uncertainty: “Since we did not often pay attention to the search for planets in binary solar systems, we had little chance of finding them. We didn’t look for anything like that, therefore we didn’t find it. The researcher believes that the realization that such double suns are very common should definitely be considered when searching for new exoplanets.