June 14, 2024
An illustration of a rogue planet being ejected from a ’tilted Tatooine’ binary star system. (Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Robert Lea (created with Canva))

Rogue planets may originate from ‘twisted Tatooine’ double star systems

“Rogue planets are not alone; we should not let them be orphans but consider them members of our planetary family.”

Star Wars fans will definitely get a kick out of binary star systems nicknamed “Tatooine” systems — a reference to the planet Luke Skywalker stands on to gaze up at twin suns in Star Wars: A New Hope. As it turns out, some of the planets in the real-life versions of these systems may have been getting a much more literal kick out of them, too.

New research suggests “rogue planets” that wander the Milky Way — aka, planets that are isolated from parent stars and live as cosmic orphans — may be getting kicked out of double, or binary, star systems. But there’s a twist (literally)!

The team found that rogue planets are more likely to be ejected from “twisted Tatooine” systems specifically. These are systems in which the stars and the planets that orbit those are misaligned, thus existing at tilted angles from one another.

As telescopes have improved, the detection of these rogue planets has burgeoned to the point that astronomers think free-floating planetary bodies vastly outnumber stars in cozy arrangements, like the solar system, in the Milky Way. Recent projects put the number of rogue planets ejected from their home systems in our galaxy as high as a quadrillion (10 followed by 14 zeroes). These new twisted-Tatooine findings could help explain why rogue planets are so common.

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