Luke Skywalker’s fictitious home planet Tatooine of the Star Wars saga have astrophysicists saying that this desert planet may not be just a figment of the writer’s imagination, but a reality.
An Earth-like, solid planets such as Tatooine, which is part of a binary star system, likely exist in reality and may be widespread across the Universe, according to a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal.
“Our main result is that outside a small region near a binary star, [either rocky or gas-giant] planet formation can proceed in much the same was as around a single star. In our scenario, planets are as prevalent around binaries as around single stars,” the researchers wrote.
The study by researchers Ben Bromley of the University of Utah, and Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, used intricate mathematical formulas to describe how binary stars can be orbited by planetesimals, or asteroid-sized rocks that clump together to form planets.
It was previously believed that planets like Earth could not form around most binary stars, at least, not close enough to support life. That is because planetismals have to fuse together gradually in order to grow. But around a single star, most planetismals rotate around a circular orbit in which their paths do not cross, making it impossible for them to merge.
And if planetismals orbit a pair of stars, usually their paths get so entangled that they collide at high speeds, extinguishing each other.
However, researchers discovered if planets start out in an oval-shaped orbit, they won’t smash into each other and will settle into orbits conducive to planet formation.
However, Bromley and Kenyon conduct of their simulations did not reach to the point of planet formation, but they did illustrate that planetesimals could survive without collisions for tens of thousands of years in concentric, oval-shaped orbits around binary stars.
In the search for other life forms, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has already found more than 1,000 planets orbiting other stars, including a number of rocky planets in the so-called habitable zone, the Goldilocks area, which is just right for life. Even our own Milky Way harbors thousands of potentially habitable planets.
But Kepler has found seven planets so far, orbiting within or near the habitable zone around binary stars, but all of them are gas giants.
Nonetheless, that does not make scientists give up their quest. The search for habitable planets like Tatooine continues with hope that the fantastical world of ‘Stars Wars’ one day will become a reality.