The universe with its suns, moons, galaxies, big bangs, and black-as-night holes from which light can’t escape defies explanation. The fact that it does defy our attempts to fathom it is at the soul of much of the world’s philosophy and religion. Our great thinkers, Einstein, Hawking… are like little children, unable to comprehend the incomprehensible.
The Kepler telescope, in searching out planets which could be considered Earth like and livable, has made a discovery foreshadowed by Earth’s finest science fiction. From Heinlein’s Double Star first seen in Astounding Science Fiction, 1956, to LucasArts’ popular Star Wars motion picture series, has been mention of solar systems wherein two suns (two stars) warm the planets and light the days. Double stars like young lovers dancing cheek to cheek are more common it may surprise the reader, than single star systems, such as our own. Imagine within, joining our dancing couple and protected by their warmth, a vulnerable small planet, moving in step with the astral music.
Our vulnerable small planet is the just discovered Kepler-16b, in fact a cold orb with a gaseous surface, circling a red dwarf one fifth the size of our Sun, and a K dwarf, two-thirds the scope of the Sun. The uninhabitable (?), Kepler-16b, is similar in size to Saturn, and is cold indeed at 100 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The double stars are well synchronized, each orbiting the other every 41 days.
This cold planet was discovered by the Kepler mission as astronomers searched for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way near Lyre and Cygnus (the Swan); some 150,000 stars were included in the area being studied. Scientists watch for “dimming” which occurs when an object, a planet in this case, passes between the stars under scrutiny and the Kepler telescope. Scientist utilizing Copernican values can determine precisely the size and mass of all objects involved.
The Kepler space telescope has in truth discovered 2000 eclipsing binary stars. SETI Institute astronomer Laurance Doyle located the 16b binaries and noted the irregularly spaced dips, or diminishings, occurring roughly but not precisely 229 days apart. The Doyle team concluded that the dips were caused by a small passing object, and the discovery was made.
How sad it would be if the universe with its stars, planets, suns and moons, days and nights had unfolded and spanned eternity with no one to witness the unfolding; with none to see such glorious existence. In order to remain beautiful, there had to be man, and birds, and the animals, worms, snails…there had to be man to see the stars.