Scientists Say Multiple-Star Planets Like Star Wars' Tatooine Aren't Just Real, They're Habitable
Back in 1977, astronomers probably scoffed at the twin suns of Luke Skywalker's home planet for the same reason modern scientists laugh at Cloud City—-planets just don't work that way.
Han and Lando should be crushed, frozen, and suffocating when they step onto the landing pad above Bespin (a gas giant), and Luke's little homestead on Tatooine should be a pile of ash, right? Unfortunately for the naysayers, not only have planets been found orbiting binary stars, it turns out they may be habitable for very, very long periods of time.
A new study from researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa details the results of over 45,000 simulations that model the orbits of planets of various sizes and masses in two and three-star systems, and the outcomes are surprisingly optimistic.
According to Franco Busetti, the lead author on the study:
"We ran the simulations for periods ranging from 1 million to 10 million years, in order to see if the systems are stable over very long periods. The analysis shows that most configurations had large enough stable regions for planets to exist. Many of these areas are actually very habitable for planets."
In addition to proving that these planets could be hosts to life, the simulations give astronomers the tools to identify these types of systems.
Though it's certainly possible for life to find a home in these systems, planets orbiting two or three stars run the risk of eventually crashing into one of their neighbor stars, not to mention becoming exposed to huge doses of radiation in the aftermath of solar flares.
If Trappist-1, a near-perfect exoplanet system, can't even handle the radiation from its single star, life may have a hard time developing on a Tatooine-like planet.
If the idea of a planet with multiple suns sounds intriguing, you might be interested to know that Isaac Asimov's fictional planet Kalgash, which only sees nightfall once every two millennia, would be possible if you had a black hole and eight suns in the right places—astrophysicist Sean Raymond has already modeled what it would look like.