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Tuesday, Jun 19th

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Here Come The Suns: New Planet Orbits Two Stars

Planet orbits two sunsA trillion is a huge number — when you're talking dollars or euros. But a trillion miles is not so much in the cosmic scheme of things. Astronomers say they've now found a planet that orbits two suns a mere thousand trillion miles from here. It's yet another example of a weird solar system being discovered around nearby stars.

Two years ago, NASA launched the Kepler observatory to look for Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system. It has found more than 1,000 apparent planets around distant suns.

Now, for the first time, it has found a planet in orbit around a double star. Laurance Doyle from the SETI Institute in California says these twin stars are 200 light-years away from us in the constellation Cygnus, and each one has a slightly different hue.

"You have an orange star that's 69 percent the mass of the sun, and it is basically dancing with a 20-percent-the-mass-of-the-sun red star," he says. "And they go around each other every 41 days."

Doyle and his many collaborators looked closely at this system and watched as the stars temporarily dimmed with a predictable pattern — a sure sign that a planet was passing in front of them. Astronomers had previously seen strong hints of planets around twin stars, but this is the first direct observation, according to their report in Science.

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