Science of Star Wars: Planets

One of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the last 20 years has been the identification of extra-solar planets (exoplanets).  We’ve identified thousands of planets around many stars.  In fact, scientists believe that every star has at least one planet.  This means that our dream for a real-life Star Wars is certainly on the table.

It’s fascinating to think that until very recently the creators of Star Wars knew nothing of what actual other planets may be out there. When Star Wars began, we only knew of 9 official planets.  Even with some more recent recategorization, we still have only 8 planets and a few dwarf planets to speak of in our own neighborhood.   They only had their imaginations – and the variety of terrains on Earth – to go by.

And it was an active imagination.  The Star Wars Universe includes a wide diversity of planet types.  We’ve seen snow worlds, desert worlds, binary star systems and many others.  What scientists have discovered is that many of these types of worlds are possible, if not certain.

 

Tatooine: Binary Star System

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Binary star systems: One icon moment in Star Wars A New Hope was Luke Skywalker watching the double sun-set on Tatooine.  While seemingly exotic, scientists have found that binary star systems are actually very common.

The first confirmed exoplanet around a binary star system PSR B1620-26 in 2003 after first observations took place in 1993.  In fact, most star systems are probably binary.  If Jupiter was a just a bit bigger and hotter (like a brown dwarf star) then our own solar system could be a binary system.

 

 

Hoth: Ice World

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Snow planets: Geologists have found evidence that approximately 650 Million years ago, Earth was completely covered in snow and ice.  Other objects such as Jupiter’s Moon Europa and much of dwarf planet Pluto are nearly entirely covered in Ice.  So the existence of a real-life Hoth is a very real potential.

 

 

Kamino: Water World

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Water worlds: In Attack of the Clone, the planet Kamino is entirely covered in water.  Water is actually very common in the Universe.  Most of the objects in our solar system contain some amount of water.  An entire planet covered with water may also be possible. Earth itself is about 70% covered by water.

Scientists have also discovered planet GJ 1214B, a planet whose density measurements indicate it is nearly earth’s size and has a density that would make it predominantly water.  Given how common ice and water is in the universe, it certainly makes sense that water worlds and ice worlds would be fairly common.

 

Mustafar: Lava World

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Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith is a rocky, lava-covered world.  Earth, and perhaps all rocky planets go through a cooling off period when their surfaces are both rocky and covered with lava rivers.  It’s not unfamiliar from the various volcano’s around the Earth.

Astronomers have identified several lava world candidates including COROT-7bKepler-10bAlpha Centauri Bb, and Kepler-78b.  Volcanic activity is also seen fairly often in our own solar system.  Jupiter’s moon Io has significant volcanic activity, driven mostly by the gravitational effects of Jupiter’s gravity.

 

Yavin: Red Giant

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The climax of Star Wars A New Hope took place on the 4th moon of the planet Yavin.  The attack on the Death Star took place in the moments when Yavin 4 was just on the other side of the planet.

This is also not an uncommon occurrance. The most obvious example can be found in our own solar system.  Jupiter is a large, red planet with several moons with varying landscapes.   Jupiter is a bit too far and too cold for its moons to have moderate enough temperatures and conditions to support life as we understand it (as we have yet to discover, I’ll note) to be considered a real candidate for Yavin.  However, scientists have discovered many Juperiter or larger sized planets that are closer to their host Stars.  These large gas giants could also be potential red giant stars (or in other words, a failed binary star system) and could potentially foster more temperate climates among prospective moons.

Though we have yet to figure out how to identify moons orbiting exoplanets, this type of planet/moon system paradigm is also intriguing as a scenario for life-sustaining environments.

 

Gorse: Tidal Locked

In the book, A New Dawn, Hera encounters Kanan (from Star Wars Rebels) while visiting the mining planet Gorse.  This planet doesn’t rotate and has one side facing its star all the time.  Since the sun-facing side is too hot, all of the  mining and refining operations take place on the dark side of the planet.

This is actually not uncommon either.  The technical term for this type of planet is being “tidal locked”.  Earth’s Moon is tidal locked with only one side facing the Earth at any time.  Mercury is tidal locked with the Sun with one side being blow torched and the other side freezing.  Dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon are both tidal locked with each other and rotate around  a common point in space (the current New Horizons mission will soon be revealing detailed images of the Pluto/Charon system).

 

So while there are many fantastical things about the worlds we see in Star Wars (including alien life… so far), the various types of planets are possible.

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