London: Researchers have discovered two new planets, named Kepler-34 and Kepler-35, each of which is circling around its own double suns.
Together with Kepler-16, discovered a few months ago, there are now three such known systems in the galaxy.
According to Prof. Tsevi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Director of the Wise Observatory, these discoveries indicate that planets revolving around binary suns (suns that are formed as a pair) are a common phenomenon.
Double stars or suns are typical in the universe, and now we know that planets can orbit around these intriguing phenomena, he said.
The team discovered the planets, which are 5,000 light years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation, by measuring the light emitted by the double suns.
The data was collected by NASA’s Kepler satellite.
Most suns in the universe exist in pairs, explained Prof. Mazeh. These partnerships closely mimic human relationships — if two suns are formed together, they stay together, unless a third star comes too close to the pair and breaks the bond between the two.
Our solar system, which revolves around one sun, is more unusual, though we can’t dismiss the possibility that our sun has an undiscovered distant companion, he says.
And while the phenomenon of binary stars has been well known for centuries, the recent discoveries prove that binary suns can also support planets.
Each sun in these systems revolves around its mate in a regular, cyclical pattern. During sunsets on Kepler-34 and Kepler-35, one sun will descend first, followed by a twilight period.
Afterwards, the second sun will set and night will fall. In Hebrew, the word for twilight means “between the suns,” explained Prof. Mazeh, saying that the translation is an accurate description of what twilight is like on these newly discovered planets. Kepler-34 revolves around its double sun every 289 days, Kepler-35 every 131 days.
Prof. Mazeh added that this discovery provides a unique opportunity to learn about solar systems that are very different from our own.
The results have been published in the journal Nature.