For some time, scientists have been fascinated by the theory that other planets outside the solar system may be able to support life if they share some characteristics with Earth.
One characteristic, in particular, is if they also revolve around a single star within their respective systems. The area near a star that is neither too hot or too cold is often called a Goldilocks Zone, and a planet that is located at just the right distance from its orbiting star could possibly support life.
However, a newly published research from the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society now claims that a planet could also support life if it is located near a binary star system.
Two Suns Are Better Than One
An undergraduate student Bethany Wootton and Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow Dr. Richard Parker, both from the University of Sheffield, observed that the region between binary systems may allow water to exist, allowing them to support life in theory. Using computer models as subjects, the two astronomers note that within this particular Goldilocks Zone, the temperature and conditions are better than in the zone near a single star.
According to their findings, when binary pair orbit each other at a great distance, the habitable zone is the same as a single star system. The stars of a binary system, however, may be pushed together if they encounter a third star. When the binary pair orbit very close to each other, heat overlaps and gets pushed to a wider area - widening the habitable zone.
"Our model suggests that there are more binary systems where planets sit in Goldilocks zones than we thought, increasing the prospects for life. So those worlds beloved of science fiction writers - where two suns shine in their skies above alien life - look a lot more likely now," Wootton said.
The researchers used computer models to simulate the cosmic encounters of a "stellar nursery" composed of roughly 350 binaries.
Binary Systems Not Uncommon At All
The new research is great news for scientists who are still searching for cosmic bodies that may support life, and they sure have a lot of stars to look into. Almost a third of all star systems in the Milky Way galaxy are binary systems, and some of these are composed of two or more stars. If there are more of these Goldilocks Zones where life is possible, then the probability that life actually exists beyond Earth increases.
"The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most fundamental questions in modern science, and we need every bit of evidence we can find to help answer it," says Wootton in the paper.