Two suns in the sky: Planetary system like from Star Wars saga discovered

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Researchers discover a rare circumbinary planetary system, similar to Tatooine from Star Wars. BEBOP-1c, the newly discovered planet, orbits two stars and has an enormous mass. It is only the second time such a system with multiple planets has been found.

In the Star Wars saga movies, the planet Tatooine plays a unique role and stands out visually: Because the home of the hero Luke Skywalker orbits around two stars – not just one, as in our solar system. It was unclear whether such systems with planets existed for a long time. Now researchers have discovered one with multiple worlds – only the second time this has been accomplished. The study, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, was published in the current issue of Nature Astronomy.

The newly discovered planet is also known as a circumbinary planet because it orbits around a binary star. It is named BEBOP-1c, after the project name that collected the data (BEBOP stands for “Binaries Escorted By Orbiting Planets”).

The star system is also known as TOI-1338. In 2020, NASA’s TESS space telescope discovered a planet in the same system: TOI-1338b. “The transit method allowed us to measure the size of TOI-1338b, but not its mass, which is the most fundamental parameter of the planet,” explained author Matthew Standing of the Open University.

Despite years of work, they were unable to measure the mass of the planet tracked down by TESS, but instead discovered a second planet, BEBOP-1c, and were able to determine its mass. “So far, only 12 circumbinary systems are known, and this is only the second to host more than one planet,” said David Martin, astronomer and Sagan Fellow at Ohio State University.

The now-discovered planet, BEBOP-1c, has an orbital period of 215 days and a mass 65 times greater than Earth’s, which is about five times less than Jupiter’s, according to the researchers. Although rare, circumbinary planets are essential for understanding what happens when a planet forms. “Planetary systems form in a disk of matter surrounding a young star, where the mass gradually coalesces into planets,” explained Lalitha Sairam, a researcher at the University of Birmingham and second author of the study. The team knows BEBOP-1c’s mass but not its size – which they hope to find out using the transit method.

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