Kepler spots Tatooine-like Goldilocks planet in deep space

12 Aug 2015

Artist Mark Garlick’s impression of the Kepler-453 system showing the newly discovered planet on the right and the eclipsing binary stars on the left.

NASA are thanking their ‘lucky stars’ following the discovery of a new planet within the ‘Goldilocks zone’ of a distant binary star system, having timed it just right to actually monitor the planet.

Designated Kepler-453b, the Goldilocks planet is so-named because of the fact it exists within the ‘hospitable zone’ where there exists the potential for life on planets to exist, much like our own place in the solar system.

However, Kepler-453b is considerably different to Earth in a number of ways, most notably that it orbits not one, but two stars, which are part of the same system.

According to the team from San Diego State University, which was using the NASA Kepler spacecraft to analyse the region of space, the Goldilocks planet is approximately 6.2-times larger than Earth.

Due to its size, it is believed to be a gassy giant rather than a rocky planet, which sadly rules out the potential for life on Kepler-453b.

Can only be seen once every 50 years

If there were life on the planet, however, it would witness a sky much like the one shown on the planet Tatooine in the Star Wars film franchise, with two blazing suns that orbit each other every 27 days.

Neither star is as large as our own sun, however, with the largest of the pair being 94pc the size of the sun, while the smaller one is just 20pc the size.

To even find the planet was something of a miracle, the team said, as it timed the sighting just right, otherwise it would have had to wait more than 50 years to see it again.

“If we had observed this planet earlier or later than we did, we would have seen nothing and assumed there was no planet there,” said Stephen Kane, head of NASA’s Kepler Habitable Zone Working Group.

“That suggests that there are a lot more of these kinds of planets than we are thinking, and we’re just looking at the wrong time.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic