The planet is officially known as Kepler 16(AB)-b, but even astronomers are informally calling it Tatooine, after Luke Skywalker’s desert homeworld in Star Wars. You may remember the scene where Luke gazes wistfully at two setting suns — and if you’re a real space geek, you may remember that when the movie was released, astronomers publicly doubted whether such a planetary system could exist. So if today’s news is a vindication for anyone, it’s George Lucas.
Indeed, by way of apology, NASA reached out to Industrial Light and Magic visual effects supervisor John Knoll to discuss the finding at today’s official press conference. Knoll repaid the compliment: “Science is stranger and cooler than fiction,” he said. “It’s possible there’s a real Tatooine out there.”
If so, it isn’t this planet. Despite being in a binary star system, Kepler 16(AB)-b is a gas giant rather than a desert world. Somewhat similar to Saturn in size, its surface temperatures vary between minus 150 Farenheit to minus 100 on a warm day. So if there is a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” hanging out there, it has found some way of keeping toasty.
If you feel like checking it out for yourself, you’d better get moving sooner rather than later. “Tatooine” is 200 light years away, in the constellation Cygnus.
Or you could just watch the official Kepler Mission video below: