Many Planets Could Circle Twin Suns, NASA Says

Victoria Jaggard
National Geographic News
March 30, 2007

"But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters."

If life exists on other worlds, someone could be whining about doing their chores on a planet not unlike Star Wars's Tatooine.

The latest data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the universe might be brimming with planets that have two suns like the desert world that Luke Skywalker called home (see related images from Spitzer).

More than half of all known star systems are binaries, with twin stars locked in a gravitational dance, NASA scientists say.

The new data show that dusty disks of debris that could be indicators of planet formation are just as abundant around binaries as they are around single stars.

"There could be countless planets out there with two or more suns," lead study author David Trilling of the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a press release.

Trilling and colleagues will publish a paper on their research in the April 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Twin Suns

Existing techniques for looking directly for planets don't work very well when searching around binary stars.

Normally, planet hunters look for the so-called Doppler wobble as evidence of a planet's gravity tugging on its host star.

"But everything in a binary system is more complicated," Trilling told National Geographic News.

That's because, in addition to any planets in orbit, both stars are tugging on each other, he said. Each star's effect on the other would be great enough to mask the planet's effect.

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