A team of astronomer has discovered a planet that is similar to Tatooine. A person living on the planet would see two suns in the sky, but it's a gas giant, so don't make any plans to build.

The planet was detected using a ground-based telescope in France. A circumbinary planet, also known as a planet with two stars, is rarely discovered. It is not clear how such planets form. In a system with two stars, planets might not form from disks of matter around a single star.

Artist's impression of Kepler-16b, which can be seen in the foreground.
Artist’s impression of Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars – what’s called a circumbinary planet. The planet, which can be seen in the foreground, was discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

It is difficult to understand how circumbinary planets can exist, according to the leader of the team. The planet may have formed far from the two stars, where their influence is weaker, and then moved inwards in a process called disc-driven migration.

The way in which the planet was detected is notable. The radial velocity method was used by the researchers to detect the planet, which was first discovered by the space-based telescope Kepler in 2011. It's cheaper to detect such planets using a ground-based telescope than it is to use a space-based telescope, so it opens the door to discovering more planets like it in the future.

The discovery shows how ground-based telescopes can be used for exciting new projects.

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