Planets Orbiting Two Stars Are More Likely to Harbor Life

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A university student and her professor have come to the conclusion that planets orbiting binary stars are more likely to harbor life because they are less likely to be affected by solar winds.

Joni Clark at New Mexico State University simulated various types of systems in a project to see which planets were more capable of being habitable.

She found that binary systems produce less of a threat of solar winds for their orbiting planets, and that increases the chances that water and life can form.

"The stars calm each other down," Clark said. "It's like a really good marriage. They vent to each other, and they're not focused on anything else. They slow each other down and that causes increased magnetic protection of the planets."

She and astrophysicist Paul Mason of the University of Texas found that stars 80 percent as big as the sun that are close together have a higher chance of being able to sustain life.

When two stars of a similar mass start orbiting each other, they reduce the amount of solar wind they create.

Solar wind is damaging to planets, as it is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the sun. They are mostly electrons and protons, and the stream can vary in temperature.

While the stars would die out around the same time a similarly-sized, single star would, the binary stars have a larger "habitable zone." The habitable zone in binary stars is 40 percent higher than that of single stars.

Clark found that planets that orbit a binary system would do so in the same way planets orbit a single star. 

But living conditions on the planets would vary due to cloud cover.

The planets with high cloud cover would be insulated from ultraviolet radiation.

"It also leaves the potential open for small planets that have less magnetic field protection to remain habitable because in a sense they don't have to protect themselves from as much as they would in a single star case," Clark said. 

Sources: Daily Mail, Huffington Post