It turns out the double sunset Luke Skywalker watches on Tatooine isn’t as fantastic as we might have assumed. A group of astromers led by David Trilling using the Spitzer space telescope to view the infrared spectrum (which allows them to see the disk of dust associated with planet formation) have concluded that planets are at least as likely to form in double star systems as in single.
I read about this in Science Magazine news, but since Science cuts off access to old news items, here’s a link: a spacedaily.com report that hopefully won’t go bad. Also, I discovered the Spitzer telescope podcast series, which has featured this story in a recent podcast.
In the Science news article, Phil Berardelli wrote:
The discovery should serve as another cautionary tale for anyone who relies too much on our own solar system as a model, says astrophysicist Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Astronomers used to think that all gas giant planets such as Jupiter would be far from their suns, for example, he says. But they’ve now found several “hot Jupiters” close to their stars. Likewise, Livio says, we should no longer assume that one-star systems are the ideal planet breeding grounds.
Which got me reflecting on the larger phenomenon. It’s hard not to make assumptions based on what we see around us, but Earth — and so much of what we see on and around it — is only a sample size of one.