alien stars and exoplanets

It’s May the 4th: Are Star Wars Planets Real?

Look at what we’ve found so far.

Is your favorite Star Wars planet a desert world or an ice planet or a jungle moon?

It’s possible that your favorite planet exists right here in our galaxy. Astronomers have found over 3,400 planets around other stars, called “exoplanets.”

Some of these alien worlds could be very similar to arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists.

Find out if your planet exists in a galaxy far, far away or all around you. And May the Fourth be with you!

Planets With Two Suns

From Luke Skywalker’s home world Tatooine, you can stand in the orange glow of a double sunset. The same could said for Kepler-16b, a cold gas giant roughly the size of Saturn, that orbits two stars. Kepler-16b was the Kepler telescopes’s first discovery of a planet in a “circumbinary” orbit (that is, circling both stars, as opposed to just one, in a double star system). 

The best part is that Tatooine aka Kepler-16b was just the first. It has family. A LOT of family. Half the stars in our galaxy are pairs, rather than single stars like our sun. If every star has at least one planet, that’s billions of worlds with two suns. Billions! Maybe waiting for life to be found on them.

Desert Worlds

Mars is a cold desert planet in our solar system, and we have plenty of examples of scorching hot planets in our galaxy (like Kepler-10b), which orbits its star in less than a day)! Scientists think that if there are other habitable planets in the galaxy, they’re more likely to be desert planets than ocean worlds. That’s because ocean worlds freeze when they’re too far from their star, or boil off their water if they’re too close, potentially making them unlivable. Perhaps, it’s not so weird that both Luke Skywalker and Rey grew up on planets that look a lot alike.

Ice Planets

An icy super-Earth named OGLE-200-BLG-390Lb reminded scientists so much of the frozen Rebel base they nicknamed it “Hoth,” after its frozen temperature of minus 364 degrees Fahrenheit. Another Hoth-like planet was discovered last month; an Earth-mass icy world orbiting its star at the same distance as Earth orbits the sun. But its star is so faint, the surface of OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb is probably colder than Pluto.

Forest worlds

Both the forest moon of Endor and Takodana, the home of Han Solo’s favorite cantina in “Force Awakens,” are green like our home planet. But astrobiologists think that plant life on other worlds could be red, black, or even rainbow-colored!

In February 2017, the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered seven Earth-sized planets in the same system, orbiting the tiny red star TRAPPIST-1.

The light from a red star, also known as an M dwarf, is dim and mostly in the infrared spectrum (as opposed to the visible spectrum we see with our sun). And that could mean plants with wildly different colors than what we’re used to seeing on Earth. Or, it could mean animals that see in the near-infrared.

What About Moons?

In Star Wars, Endor, the planet with the cute Ewoks, is actually a habitable moon of a gas giant. Now, we’re looking for life on the moons of our own gas giants. Saturn’s moon Enceladus or Jupiter’s moon Europa are ocean worlds that may well support life. Our Cassini spacecraft has explored the Saturn system and its moons. Watch the video and learn more about the missions’s findings.

And Beyond

The next few years will see the launch of a new generation of spacecraft to search for planets around other stars. TESS and the James Webb Telescope are slated to launch in 2018, and WFIRST in the mid-2020s. That’s one step closer to finding life.

You might want to take our ‘Star Wars: Fact or Fiction?’ quiz. Try it! Based on your score you may obtain the title of Padawan, Jedi Knight, or even Jedi Master! 

You don’t need to visit a galaxy far, far away to find wondrous worlds. Just visit this one … there’s plenty to see.

Discover more about exoplanets here: https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

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TRAPPIST-1 star is where the hunt for intelligent life is heading next

Three new exoplanets in a star system just 40 light-years away from Earth have captured the attention of astronomers. They say it might be the perfect place to search for signs of life. The most exciting part is that the planets are about Earth-sized, which makes them good candidates for hosting life. They’re also orbiting a really dim star, which is super helpful for astronomers.

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Could Planets Like Those Imagined in Star Wars Be Real??

Look at what we’ve found so far. 

Is your favorite Star Wars planet a desert world or an ice planet or a jungle moon?

It’s possible that your favorite planet exists right here in our galaxy. Astronomers have found over 3,400 planets around other stars, called “exoplanets.”

Some of these alien worlds could be very similar to arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists.

Find out if your planet exists in a galaxy far, far away or all around you.

Planets With Two Suns

Were you going to the Tosche station to pick up some power converters? Hold on a minute and learn about Kepler-16b, 200 light-years from Earth. It’s the first honest-to-goodness planet ever found where you could watch two suns set like Luke. George Lucas himself even blessed its nickname ‘Tatooine.’ It’s not a perfect comparison: Kepler-16b is a cold gas giant roughly the size of Saturn. But don’t worry, kid.

The best part is that Tatooine aka Kepler-16b was just the first. It has family. A LOT of family. Half the stars in our galaxy are pairs, rather than single stars like our sun. If every star has at least one planet, that’s billions of worlds with two suns. Billions! Maybe waiting for life to be found on them.

Desert Worlds

If you’re like Finn and want to know why everyone wants to go back to Jakku desert planets, get this: Star Wars may be reflecting the real universe. Desert worlds are not only a very real possibility, but we think they are probably very common. They can be hot, like the fictional Tatooine and Jakku, or cold, like Jedha in “Rogue One” or our real planet Mars.

Perhaps it’s not so weird that both Luke and Rey grew up on planets that look suspiciously like each other. If you’re scouring the universe for a place to settle, you have a good chance of finding a desert planet.

Ice Planets

There is a Hoth in our galaxy! Though not the same Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back” (no invading Imperials, for one). The icy super-Earth reminded scientists so much of the frozen Rebel base they nicknamed it “Hoth.” The planet’s real name is OGLE 2005-BLG-390L.

Our galaxy’s Hoth is too cold to support life as we know it. But life may evolve under the ice of a different world, or a moon in our solar system.

We’re currently designing a mission to look for life under the crust of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. We’re pretty sure ity won’t look like tauntauns, if it exists.

Forest worlds

Both the forest moon of Endor and Takodana, the home of Han Solo’s favorite cantina in “Force Awakens,” are green like our home planet. But astrobiologists think that plant life on other worlds could be red, black, or even rainbow-colored!

In August 2016, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of Proxima Centauri b, a planet only four light-years away from Earth, which orbits a tiny red star.

The light from a red star, also known as an M dwarf, is dim and mostly in the infrared spectrum (as opposed to the visible spectrum we see with our sun). And that could mean plants with wildly different colors than what we’re used to seeing on Earth. Or, animals that see in the near-infrared.

And Beyond

The next few years will see the launch of a new generation of spacecraft to search for planets around other stars. TESS and the James Webb Telescope will go into space in 2018, and WFIRST in the mid-2020s. That’s one step closer to finding life.

You don’t need to visit a galaxy far, far away to find wondrous worlds. Just visit this one … there’s plenty to see.

Discover more about exoplanets here: https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Scientists identify 82 stars where potential alien life could have already spotted us

It’s an unsettling thought, but aliens could easily spot Earth before humans spot them. In a new research paper, astronomers identified 82 other stars around the sun that have a clear view of Earth. If any of those stars are host to planets with life, someone else in the universe may have already seen that humans are here. The researchers assume that alien life could theoretically figure out the same way to find exoplanets that we have.

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Campaign seeks to figure out what the “alien mega-structure” really is

In October 2015, star KIC 8462852, also called “Tabby’s star,” made headlines when scientists suggested its strange dips in brightness might be caused by a giant, alien-built megastructure. Now, astronomer Tabetha Boyajian has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full year of continuous observation of the star to figure out what’s causing its strange dimming behavior. This star is pretty damn strange.

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