Mathematical simulations suggest that Luke Skywalker’s home in “Star Wars” is the desert planet Tatooine, with twin sunsets because it orbits two stars, may be more common that we thought.
Until now, we have identified only uninhabitable gas-giant planets circling binary stars – scientists thought rocky planets could not form there.
But the study, by Ben Bromley of the University of Utah and Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, titled “Planet formation around binary stars: Tatooine made easy”, now shows that it is possible.
“Tatooine sunsets may be common after all,” the scientists conclude.
“Our main result is that outside a small region near a binary star, [either rocky or gas-giant] planet formation can proceed in much the same was as around a single star,” they write. “In our scenario, planets are as prevalent around binaries as around single stars.”
Their mathematical formulae describe how binary stars can be orbited by planetesimals – asteroid-sized rocks that clump together to form planets.
“We took our sweet numerical time to show that the ride around a pair of stars can be just as smooth as around one,” when it comes to the early steps of planet formation, Bromley says. “The ‘made easy’ part is really saying the same recipe that works around the sun will work around Tatooine’s host stars.”
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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