Welcome to the fifth entry in my series on exoplanets based on NASA's Exoplanet Travel Bureau site. The site itself provides the gorgeous vintage travel posters and guided tours, but I wanted to do a deeper dive into these exoplanets.
Kepler-16b is an exoplanet located in the constellation Cygnus, approximately 200 light-years away from Earth. It's a particularly intriguing exoplanet because it's a circumbinary planet, which means it orbits two stars, not just one. Kepler-16b was discovered in 2011 by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler's primary mission was to search for exoplanets using the transit method, which involves monitoring the dimming of a star's light as a planet passes in front of it. In the case of Kepler-16b, it was found to be a circumbinary planet. Kepler-16b's host stars are both Sun-like stars, which are collectively referred to as Kepler-16. The two stars orbit each other closely, and the planet orbits around both of them. It was one of the first confirmed exoplanets discovered in a binary star system and its discovery helps scientists better understand the complexities of planetary formation and orbital dynamics in multiple star systems.
Kepler-16b is a gas giant with a mass approximately similar to Saturn's. It's much larger than Earth with a radius several times greater. The planet has an orbital period, or "year," of approximately 229 Earth days. It orbits its binary star system at a distance of roughly 65 million kilometers (40 million miles), approximately the same as the average distance between the Sun and Venus. Kepler-16b's unique orbit around a binary star system means it experiences significant temperature variations. It has a colder climate than most exoplanets discovered within the habitable zones of single stars and its surface temperatures can be extremely cold due to the reduced amount of heat it receives from its dual stars. It's not considered a candidate for habitability or the presence of life as we know it due to its extreme temperatures and gaseous nature. It does not possess a solid surface and its atmospheric conditions would not be conducive to life.
Researchers continue to study Kepler-16b to gain insights into the behavior and evolution of circumbinary planets, offering valuable insights into the diversity of planetary systems in the universe. Its discovery has also paved the way for the detection and study of other planets in binary star systems and it represents a unique and scientifically significant discovery in the field of exoplanet research.