Millennium Post

NASA plans to search for ‘Star Wars’ planets

Some of the planets discovered around stars in our own galaxy may be very similar to the ‘Star Wars’ exoplanets like arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists.

Sifting through data on the more than 3,400 confirmed alien worlds, scientists applied sophisticated computer modelling techniques to tease out the colours, light, sunrise and sunsets we might encounter if we could pay them a visit.

Some of these distant worlds are even stranger than those that populate the latest Star Wars film, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” 

“Others are eerily like the fictional planets from a galaxy far, far away,” researchers said.

A real planet in our galaxy reminded scientists so much of Luke Skywalker’s home planet, they named it “Tatooine.” 

Officially called Kepler-16b, the Saturn-sized planet is about 200 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The reality of its two suns was so startling, George Lucas himself agreed to the astronomers’ nickname for the planet.

“This was the first honest-to-goodness real planetary system where you would see the double sunset as two suns,” said Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, who discovered the planet using NASA’s Kepler space telescope. A person on Kepler-16b would have two shadows. In a storm, two rainbows would appear. Each sunset would be unique, because the stars are always changing their configuration.

Building a sundial would require calculus.

Astronomers have discovered that about half of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are pairs, rather than single stars like our sun. While Kepler-16b aka Tatooine is probably too cold and gaseous to be home to life it’s a good bet that there might be a habitable Tatooine “twin” out there somewhere.

There is a world named Hoth in our galaxy - an icy super-Earth discovered in 2006. It reminded scientists so much of the frozen Rebel base they unofficially nicknamed it after the planet that appears in “The Empire Strikes Back.” 

The planet’s scientific designation is OGLE 2005-BLG-390L, after the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) that found it. Our galaxy’s Hoth is too cold to support life as we know it, researchers said. However, life may evolve under the ice of a different world, or a moon in our solar system. On Earth, it’s been found inside volcanoes, deep ocean trenches, even the frozen soil of Antarctica.

“We need Earth climate science to help us understand planetary habitability and the potential diversity of life on exoplanets,” said Nancy Kiang, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Both the forest moon of Endor, from “Return of the Jedi,” and Takodana, the home of Han Solo’s favourite cantina in “The Force Awakens,” are green like our home planet.

However, astrobiologists think that plant life on other worlds could be red, black or even rainbow-coloured. 
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