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Question Your World: Where Else Could Life Exist?

Sometimes science catches up to the movies. One example is Star Wars. You know that scene where Luke Skywalker is looking out at the horizon with two suns in the sky. How is that even possible? Listen to the latest Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

In 1977 when Star Wars was released in theaters, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the film. This part western, part space film struck a note with American film audiences. Scientists on the other hand found a lot of issues that needed to be addressed. How can the force of gravity be so strong on a space ship? Would spacecraft explosions really look and sound like that? There were a few science related concerns, but then again it's a movie. Suspension of disbelief and what not. There is another part that defied the laws of science in 1977 also, the famous Tatooine double star sun set. Astronomers were aware of binary star systems, but for the longest time it was considered too hostile an area for planets to form thus, making this iconic scene yet another bad-science moment in the epic saga. However, recently, scientists have re-examined this possibility and have a drastically new thought process.

The science and math in this deals with very complex variables, but ultimately can be summed up with a simple explanation. A binary star system has two stars that orbit one another. This means everything we experience with regards to our stellar system can be exaggerated in a binary system because there's just more in the center. Two suns are hotter than one right? So imagine the heat we get from our sun being even hotter. What would that do? Well, first of all it would change the planetary dynamic by adjusting the habitable zone. Currently our lone-star's habitable zone accounts for us and maybe Mars, but that's the limit.  The double star system would have a much different habitable zone. This added energy source (of the extra star) would extend the habitable zone further out, which would allow for more planets to exist in that band of space where light and heat coming from the center is just right (not too hot, not too cold). 

So, after 36 years science has finally caught up to George Lucas' vision of a world that existed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Want more science and movie combos?  Check out this list of 10 at Popular Mechanics

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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