Can one have too many Tatooines? A survey of the local galactic neighborhood with the Spitzer Space Telescope finds the original scene of Luke Skywalker gazing at twin setting suns on Tatooine could be as common in fact as fiction.
David Trilling of the University of Arizona in Tucson told Phil Bernardelli, " binary star systems produce protoplanetary disks--the necessary precursors for planet formation--at least as often as single stars such as our sun. " noting " that binary systems whose stars orbit very close together are even more likely to harbor disks--and, potentially, planets--than single-star systems...There could be countless planets out there with two or more suns."
Until the Spitzer Telescope survey ," all of the systems they observed have comprised two stars orbiting far apart--on the order of 1000 times the distance between Earth and the sun. Many astronomers believed that closely orbiting stars would create too much gravitational chaos to allow stable ."But, reports the Astrophysical Journal , aiming Spitzer's infrared telescope at 69 binary systems found evidence of debris disks in 40% -- "slightly more frequent than disks have been discovered around single stars. Trilling and colleagues found disks around 60% of systems with the most tightly orbiting stars, the kind capable of producing twin sunsets like those seen on the fictional Tatooine.
The discovery should serve as another cautionary tale for anyone who relies too much on our own solar system as a model, says astrophysicist Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Astronomers used to think that all gas giant planets such as Jupiter would be far from their suns, for example, he says. But they've now found several "hot Jupiters" close to their stars.. The Spitzer findings just "confirm the general notion that planets are everywhere," he says.