December 18, 2016
Are The Worlds Of 'Star Wars' Really Out There? NASA Aims To Find Out

The fictional universe of Star Wars is littered with a variety of populated worlds, each of them expressing a unique character that reflects some environment here on Earth. According to researchers with NASA, George Lucas' imagination may not be far off from reality, as the various worlds of Star Wars may hardly be entirely science fiction.

We need look no further than our own solar system to discover planets that reflect some of the conditions of the Star Wars universe, as recently highlighted. Both Lucas and Disney, the new owners of the franchise, have a fondness for setting their stories on desert worlds. According to Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, this tendency might mirror the conditions of our real galaxy more accurately than fans have ever considered.

"Desert planets are possible. We have one right here in our solar system in Mars. We think desert planets elsewhere could be even more habitable than Mars is."
Domagal-Goldman also noted that there is "some research" which shows that desert planets, like Tatooine, Jakku, or Jedha, are "likely habitable worlds to find." These kinds of planets may be just as common in our universe as they are in Star Wars, and they could very well be habitable, simply because of their arid nature.
"The lack of water on a desert planet might be what makes it more habitable. Water amplifies changes to climates and can cause planets to end up being really hot like Venus, or really cold like Europa."
The twin suns of Tatooine have thrilled movie audiences for nearly 40 years, but they might also be a more common feature in our own universe. One planet discovered by researchers in the years since Star Wars was released, Kepler-16b, reminded them so much of Luke Skywalker's adopted home that they actually nicknamed it after the desert world, as the Daily Mail notes. A Saturn-sized planet, Kepler-16b is located roughly 200 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, and while it is likely too cold to support life, it does in fact orbit twin suns.A person standing on the surface of Kepler-16b would cast two shadows, and two rainbows would form after a storm passes. The planet, while notable for its resemblance to Tatooine, is hardly alone in the universe, however; roughly half the stars in the Milky Way are thought to be paired, instead of singular like our sun. This means that the likelihood of finding a habitable world similar to Tatooine is indeed significant.

Tatooine isn't the only Star Wars locale that has given its name to a real-world analogue. In 2006, an icy super-Earth was discovered, which researchers unofficially nicknamed Hoth. Officially known as OGLE 2005-BLG-390L, the planet is too cold to support life. Despite this fact, other icy worlds like Europa in our own solar system may possess sub-surface oceans, which could possibly foster the conditions for life to arise.

The reality of finding an inhabited world, like all of the planets in the Star Wars galaxy, is something far different than discovering a planet that mirrors those on-screen. The idea resonates deeply with people, on a personal level; just earlier this year, the possibility that NASA had discovered signs of intelligent life in a distant galaxy rapidly spread far and wide on social media, as the Inquisitr previously reported.

Over the next few years, NASA is planning to launch another generation of spacecraft which will look ever more closely at the visible exoplanets in our own galaxy. Whatever they may find, they will represent humanity's next move in the search for extraterrestrial life, and take us one step closer to the kind of worlds that bring Star Wars to life on screen.

[Featured Image by Leon Neal/Getty Images]