This fantastic movie from NASA's JPL
offers a first glimpse of the orbital mechanics of Tatooione! Er, I mean Kepler-16b, the first directly detected planet that orbits two stars. This video shows the cool orbital mechanics of stellar eclipses and transits in a complex system. Check it out!
Kepler astronomers discovered the planet by observing as it transited its parent stars. The stars can also be detected eclipsing each other. The two orbiting stars regularly eclipse each other from Earth's point of view. As it transits across the surface of each star, the planet also eclipses them, offering NASA's Kepler spacecraft data to very accurately measure the planet.
In fact, Kepler-16b is one of the most accurately measured planets outside our solar system, with a size of 0.7538 that of Jupiter; a mass of 0.333 that of Jupiter (about the mass of Saturn); and a density of 0.964 grams per cubic centimeter. Because the orbits of the stars and the planet align within a degree of each other, it's clear that the planet formed within the same disk that the stars formed within, rather than being captured later by the two stars. The planet is cold, lying just beyond the "habitable zone" of its stars, and is made up of about half gaseous material with a rocky core.
The largest star in the Kepler-16b system is a bit smaller than our sun (about 69 percent of its mass), and the smaller star, called a red dwarf, is even lower in mass (about 20 percent of the sun's mass).
I love living in the Space Age. When do we get to visit? I want to see a double sunset from the cloud-tops.