NASA's Kepler operation has confirmed the discovery of a circumbinary planet -- a planet compasses two stars, 200 light-years from Earth.
The planet is cold, gaseous and believed to harbor life. However, its discovery exhibits the range of planets in our galaxy.
"Most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system; this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars," William Borucki, Kepler Principal Investigator said.
Laurance Doyle of the SETI Institute led a research team in Mountain View, Calif, by using data from Kepler space telescope, which traces dips in the brightness of over 150,000 stars, in order to search transiting planets.
The research team discovered the new planet in the Kepler-16 system, a pair of orbiting stars that darkens each other from the vantage position on Earth. When the smaller stars partly blocks the bigger star, a primary eclipse happens, and a secondary eclipse takes place when the smaller star is occulted, or entirely blocked, by the bigger star.
Researchers further discovered that the darkness of the system dipped even when the stars were not eclipsing each other, indicating at a third body. The further dimming in brightness events, called the tertiary and quaternary eclipses, resurfaced at odd hours, hinting the stars were in different places in their orbit every time the third body passed.
This showed the third body was circling, not just one, but both stars, in a wide circumbinary orbit.