SDSU Astronomer Discovers System with 2 Suns, 2 Planets

Researchers can now look for planets that could hold life in systems with two stars

By Chris Chan and R. Stickney
|  Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012  |  Updated 8:02 AM PDT
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Isaac Storms The Gulf Coast

NASA

An artist's depiction of the discovery made available in a NASA animation. While not a world hospitable for life, Kepler-47c is thought to be a gaseous giant, slightly larger than Neptune, where an atmosphere of thick bright water clouds might exist.

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Researchers have discovered multiple planets in a solar system with two suns something previously thought impossible.

SDSU Associate Professor of Astronomy Jerome Orosz Ph.D. is the lead author of the study which was published this week in the journal Science.

“This is the first case where we see two planets around a single binary star,” Orosz told NBC 7 as he recalled what he described as a “wild weekend.”

In Kepler-47, two stars whirl around each other, orbiting each other in every seven and a half days some 5000 light-years away from our solar system.

The planet closest to the suns is about three times larger than Earth.

The outer planet is even larger, slightly bigger than Uranus in our solar system. It is most likely a gas giant and likely uninhabitable Orosz said.

Even so, just the discovery of a second planet with data that can't be refuted is a milestone for astronomers.

“It was thrilling to find a second planet,” Orosz said.

The discovery shows us that binary stars can host planetary systems as much as single stars he said.

So researchers can now look for planets that could hold life, in systems with two stars.

“There could be liquid water on that planet. That region where you're not too close or you're not too far is called the habitable zone so you could have liquid water on an earthlike planet,” Orosz said.

This discovery was only possible because of the Kepler Telescope which orbits the sun giving it an uninterrupted look at the universe.

The telescope’s mission is to find other planets like our own. Findings like this most recent one mean chances of success may be greater Orosz said.

The work was presented at the International Astronomical Union meeting by Dr. William Welsh, Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University, on behalf of the Kepler Science Team.

"The thing I find most exciting," Welsh said in an SDSU news release, "is the potential for habitability in a circumbinary system. Kepler-47c is not likely to harbor life, but if it had large moons, those would be very interesting worlds."

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