Some days I wish I were Ben Bromley. Not Ben Bromley the lowly newspaper columnist who makes cracks about Uranus. I mean Ben Bromley, the nationally renowned physicist and astronomer whose research has found a scenario straight out of “Star Wars” – a habitable planet under two suns – is entirely possible.
The only “Star Wars”-related research I ever conducted involved testing whether an Ewok action figure could be melted on a stovetop. Let me save you a week’s grounding by assuring you it can.
The more notable Ben Bromley, a University of Utah professor, has advanced mathematical evidence Earth-like planets in our universe may orbit two star systems, like the desert planet Tatooine in the original “Star Wars” film. You may recall a young Mark Hamill gazing longingly on a horizon at dual sunsets, contemplating a future he hoped wouldn’t begin and end with portraying Luke Skywalker.
While previous findings indicated only gas giants like Jupiter orbit two stars, the professor teamed with Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to show it’s possible for rocky partial planets to clump together if their orbits match up right, combining to form a single planet like ours on a single orbit around two stars. Their study, titled “Planet formation around binary stars: Tatooine made easy” was submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for review and gained national media attention. Whereas my Ewok incident didn’t even merit coverage in my self-published family newspaper, the Bromley Blab.
As my nine loyal readers know, I’ve followed Professor Bromley’s work for years. I regard him with envy, as he’s a respected expert on black holes and I’m best known for making crude jokes about asteroids. Now that he has broken ground with research related to my favorite childhood movie, I’ve never wanted more to be the other Ben Bromley.
In their 2015 study, the smart Ben Bromley and his partner showed that, with the right orbit, habitable mini-planets can survive circling two star systems for tens of thousands of years and gently combine into one. The study started with research of the dwarf planet Pluto – someone should tell the professor it prefers to be called a “little planet” now – and its main moon. Both are orbited by other moons, making it akin to a binary planet system. This led the duo to clues indicating real-life Tatooines could exist. In fact, they might be plentiful, like asteroids around Uranus.
The scientists explained that planets form like dust bunnies under your bed, growing as them glom onto one another. If they orbit two stars in an oval pattern, they can merge together gently rather than colliding destructively.
“We are saying you can set the stage to make these things,” Bromley said. “It is just as easy to make an Earthlike planet around a binary star as it is around a single star like our sun. So we think that Tatooines may be common in the universe.”
Space probes and telescopes haven’t yet found anything but gas giants orbiting binary stars. (Side note to Professor Bromley: If you come to this Bromley family’s Thanksgiving, you’ll find a gas giant named Uncle Milt orbiting the buffet.) But the researchers figure smaller planets orbiting two stars haven’t been spotted simply because they are, like this Ben Bromley’s IQ, too small to detect even with NASA equipment.
Other so-called experts claimed it was impossible, but Professor Bromley and his partner proved an Earth-like Tatooine could form while circling two suns. He also accomplished the impossible by making a name for himself, despite that name being Ben Bromley.
More importantly, he excited sci-fi nuts who would love to see a planet like the one that brought us Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi come to life. You remember the name Luke used when referring to Obi-Wan, don’t you? He called him Ben.