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'Tatooine' planet with two suns discovered

This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitely orbit two stars -- what's called a circumbinary planet, it was announced on September 15, 2011. The planet, which can be seen in the foreground, was discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. The two orbiting stars regularly eclipse each other, as seen from our point of view on Earth. The planet also eclipses, or transits, each star, and Kepler data from these planetary transits allowed the size, density and mass of the planet to be extremely well determined. The fact that the orbits of the stars and the planet align within a degree of each other indicate that the planet formed within the same circumbinary disk that the stars formed within, rather than being captured later by the two stars. UPI/NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pylee
This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitely orbit two stars -- what's called a circumbinary planet, it was announced on September 15, 2011. The planet, which can be seen in the foreground, was discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. The two orbiting stars regularly eclipse each other, as seen from our point of view on Earth. The planet also eclipses, or transits, each star, and Kepler data from these planetary transits allowed the size, density and mass of the planet to be extremely well determined. The fact that the orbits of the stars and the planet align within a degree of each other indicate that the planet formed within the same circumbinary disk that the stars formed within, rather than being captured later by the two stars. UPI/NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pylee | License Photo

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Astronomers say planets with two suns, like the fictional Tatooine in the "Star Wars" films, do exist and the first one has been identified and named.

Scientists at NASA and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute are informally calling the so-called circumbinary planet Tatooine in homage to the planet imagined by George Lucas, although its official designation -- Kepler-16b -- is a bit less exciting, CNN reported Friday.

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Researchers led by SETI's Laurance Doyle used NASA's orbiting Kepler telescope to detect the shadow of the planet as it crossed in front of its two suns about 200 light years from Earth.

"When we first discovered it … I sent around a message, 'Hey, you know guys, we should ask George Lucas if we can nickname this guy Tatooine,'" Doyle said. "Suddenly and unexpectedly after years of looking for a circumbinary planet -- we got a beauty."

GALLERY: The year in space

The planet's two suns go around each other every 41 days, while Kepler-16b's "year" -- the time it takes to complete an orbit around its double suns -- is 229 days.

However, the new "Tatooine" probably isn't home to Luke Skywalker or any other life form, Doyle said, adding he doubts it could support life as we know it due to its size and distance from its suns.

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