|Image courtesy of R. Hurt (SSC), JPL-Caltech, NASA|
"Which sun is your favorite? The little red one or the big orange one?" We'd probably all have an answer to this question if we lived on the planet called "Kepler 16b," the first-ever confirmed planet to orbit two stars at once. This discovery has generated considerable interest among science fiction fans and Star Wars fans in particular. While astronomers are informally referring to the planet as "Tatooine" after the well-known (fictional) double-starred planet where Luke and Anakin Skywalker were raised, I am only guessing that copyright laws are preventing the discoverers from officially naming it after George Lucas' imaginary planet. (If they ask for your permission, Mr. Lucas, please say "yes!")
The planet resides in the constellation Cygnus, about 200 light years from Earth. Evidence indicates that it is too cold to harbor life as we know it. Dr. Laurance Doyle, who is heading the team of astronomers who made the discovery at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, has reported that amateur astronomers in Northern Asia will be able to find Kepler 16b as it transits across the big sun on June 28 next year. After that, it will be another 30 years before anyone on Earth can get a clear view of the double-starred planet.