Since at least the release of “Star Wars”, we have wondered what life would be like on a circumbinary planet – a planet orbiting two stars. In the past few decades, we have discovered several such planets, but we are still in the early days of modeling the climate of these worlds. One recent study uses the stars of the Kepler 35 system, which are only slightly less luminous than our sun, to explore the climate of an Earth-like water planet.
According to the study, this fictional planet would maintain Earth-like habitability at a distance of 1.165–1.195 astronomical units from its suns’ center of gravity – just a little further out than our own orbital distance. Variables like the planet’s mean global surface temperature and precipitation vary with two distinct periods – the time required for the stars to orbit one another and the time it takes for the planet to orbit its stars. Both factors affect how much sunlight the planet receives. The planet’s climate response to these changes is complex and varies depending on location, but the overall variations observed in the climate are small. It does show, however, that places like Tatooine don’t have to be desert planets! (Image credit: Tatooine – Star Wars; Kepler 35 system – L. Cook; research credit: M. Popp and S. Eggl)