San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane is among a team of researchers who have discovered a new planet that orbits two suns simultaneously. The discovery was announced today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego.
With a mass and radius nearly identical to that of Jupiter, the planet, Kepler-1647b, is the largest circumbinary planet -- a planet that orbits two stars -- ever discovered. Located in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, Kepler-1647b is 3,700 light-years away from Earth and approximately 4.4 billion years old, roughly Earth's age. The stars it orbits are similar in size to our Sun, and it also has the largest orbit of any circumbinary planet ever found, taking roughly three Earth-years to orbit its host stars.
The team that discovered the new planet used data from the Kepler telescope and includes astronomers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and San Diego State University. Laurance Doyle, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, first noticed its transit past the suns in 2011, however more data and several years of analysis were needed to confirm the transit was caused by a circumbinary planet.