'Tatooine' Planet Kepler-16b Could Host Earthlike Moon

Tattooine

First Posted: 10/01/12 10:10 Updated: 11/01/12 15:57

An Earthlike moon, reminiscent of the fictitious Tattoine could exist in a double-star system.

Astrophysicists from The University Of Texas at Arlington began presenting their study at the American Astronomical Society winter meeting yesterday.

Kepler-16b, a real-life mass which orbits the Kepler-16 double-star system, hit the headlines last September, but the cold, gaseous distinctly un-earthlike planet is uninhabitable.

The discovery was likened to Luke Skywalker’s home planet, Tatooine, from the Star Wars franchise.

The planet, which is 200 light years away and roughly the size of Saturn, is the first circumbinary planet – meaning it orbits two suns – ever discovered, says NASA.

However, new computer simulations suggest the brighter of the Kepler-16 stars may still be able to sustain life within an orbit of up to 66 million miles.

Doctoral student Billy Quarles and his colleagues simulated several possible configurations for the hypothetical Earthlike moon, National Geographic reported.

While the group cannot confirm whether a moon could have formed alongside Kepler-16b within the habitable zone, their projections suggest a planet could have long ago been ejected from its orbit due to gravitational interactions with the other objects in the system.

On the basis of this, the hypothetical moon would technically still be in the main habitable zone and would be large enough to maintain an Earthlike atmosphere.

Quarles said: “We can say there are exomoons possible around Kelper-16b, and what’s important about this is that they are detectable… down to 0.2 Earth masses.”

If an Earthlike satellite was discovered orbiting Kepler-16b, it was be the first of its kind to be detected.

Co-author Zdzislaw Musielak added: "This is an assessment of the possibilities.

"We're telling them where a planet has to be in the system to be habitable. We're hoping they will look there."

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Filed by Sara C Nelson  |