In "Star Wars: A New Hope," Tatooine is the first planet we're introduced to, a desert world with two suns where moisture farmers live in subterranean dwellings, where scary sand people roam the dunes, and of course where we first meet Luke Skywalker. The planet is so central to the saga that it appears in every "Star Wars" film except "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Force Awakens."
Now, it turns out, astronomers have discovered evidence of a rocky planet 1,000 light-years away in a system called SDSS 1557 that is eerily similar to Tatooine's system, possibly the closest thing in real-life to the Skywalker home world, reports Phys.org.
The key similarity between the fictional system and the real thing is that both contain a double sun. In the case of SDSS 1557, the two stars are a white dwarf and a brown dwarf in close orbit of one another. It's reminiscent of the iconic scene in "Star Wars" that portrays Skywalker peering pensively out at a double sunset.
SDSS 1557 isn't the first binary star system to be discovered, but it's the first where researchers have identified rocky, planetary debris in orbit around it. To date, all exoplanets discovered in orbit around double stars have been gas giants, and conditions in double star systems typically make the formation of rocky planets problematic.
"Building rocky planets around two suns is a challenge because the gravity of both stars can push and pull tremendously, preventing bits of rock and dust from sticking together and growing into full-fledged planets," explained Jay Farihi, lead author of the research. "With the discovery of asteroid debris in the SDSS 1557 system, we see clear signatures of rocky planet assembly via large asteroids that formed, helping us understand how rocky exoplanets are made in double star systems."
So SDSS 1557 is unusual, to be sure. Although the actual existence of a Tatooine-like planet has yet to be confirmed there, all of the necessary building blocks appear to be present. Our solar system makes for a keen analogue to what we might be seeing in SDSS 1557: an asteroid belt of debris that represents leftover material from the building of rocky inner worlds.
Farihi and colleagues identified the rocky belt of debris in SDSS 1557 by measuring the absorption of different wavelengths of light or 'spectra,' using the Gemini Observatory South telescope and the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope. The study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Although we may never know if this faraway system might also be home to things like hooded jawas, elephant-sized banthas, Sarlacc pits or Jabba the Hutt, it's fun to imagine. The universe is large enough that just about anything can seem possible.