San Diego State professors recently assisted NASA in discovering the first cicumbinary planet – a planet that orbits two suns.
The professors worked as part of the Kepler Mission team at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Kepler Mission primarily searches for Earth-size and smaller planets in the habitable zone of other stars in our neighborhood of the galaxy, according to NASA.
Astronomy professors Jerome Orosz and William Welsh, along with former College of Sciences Dean Donald Short, analyzed the Kepler-16 data. They were able to determine the properties of the stars including their sizes and to measure the planet's mass.
“The discovery of Kepler-16 is perhaps the biggest discovery in exoplanet studies since the discovery of 51 Pegasi,” said Orosz. The discovery of 51 Pegasi in 1995 was the first sun-like star found to have a planet orbiting it.
The planet is similar to the fictional planet Tatooine in Star Wars, according to NASA. But unlike Tatooine, Kepler-16b is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life.
“Kepler-16b shows us that planetary bodies can exist in circumbinary orbits,” said Orosz. “The Kepler Mission represents a huge step forward not only in planetary science, but in the study of stars.”