It’s already a predefined narrative: NASA’s ginormous telescopes find new exoplanet that orbits more than one star – usually two – and the whole world of online media and news outlets effectively goes bananas calling it Tatooine. So, what’s with Kepler-453B – Tatooine or not Tatooine?
For those of you who do not know – or have lived on a rock for the past 30-40 years – Tatooine is a clear reference to the planet in the fourth episode (and first instalment), A New Hope, of the sci-fi movie series Star Wars (originally called simply Star Wars).
It’s already a pop-culture classic: the image of main character Luke Skywalker staring off into the two-sun sunset while the London Symphony Orchestra plays a marvelously nostalgic tune in the background. But could this cultural object have permeated so much our minds that now everyone calls any planet orbiting more than one star a would-be Tatooine?
So it goes. But let’s talk a bit about Kepler-453B. The planet was discovered by the Kepler telescope. Despite it being in the habitable zone in its solar system, scientists speculate that it may not be home to any life, since it is – wait for it – 6.2 times greater in radius than our own tiny Earth. In this case, it is more than probable that it is a gas giant, and not a rocky planet as Earth would be.
However, the planet may have a few moons, and scientists say that if even one of these turns out to be rocky, it is very likely that they will also be home to life. This gives a whole new meaning to the rhetorical question: “do you live on the moon?”
Jokes aside, 453B goes around its stars in 240 days – so it’s a shorter year than on Earth. Furthermore, both stars are smaller than our Sun, which itself is pretty small, star-wise. The bigger one is 90% of our own, while the smaller one is just 20% of our own. Because of its strange orbit due to the pull of two gravitational forces, scientists were lucky to see the star now, since the next time it would have passed right between us and its stars would’ve been in 2066.
So, as you may well see, this planet has nothing to do with Tatooine, since it is not a desert planet, it cannot hold life, and its two suns are completely out of proportion, whereas those on Tatooine were more closely matched.
453B will however hold the spotlight for some time, as new research on it is set to arrive soon. And with all the misconceptions astronomers turned out to have had about Pluto, who knows, maybe 453B is rocky and full of little green men, no?
Image source: nbcnews.com