Friday, June 14, 2013

Planets, Double Stars, Life: A New Look at the Odds

"Tatooine-Like Alien Planets Could Host Life"
Miriam Kramer, (June 13, 2013)

"Luke Skywalker would be proud. Planets like Skywalker's fictional home of Tatooine in the 'Star Wars' movie series might have more potential for habitability than planets in other systems, research suggests.

"Tatooine's dual suns might actually help prevent damaging solar winds from bombarding planets in their system, allowing for a wider 'Goldilocks zone' of habitability, Joni Clark, an undergraduate at New Mexico State University, said during a poster session at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week.

" '[The stars] calm each other down,' Clark told of her new work that expands on earlier studies examining binaries. '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.'..."

Not just any two stars will do. They have to be about the same mass, and be in a tight orbit around each other: circling every 10 to 30 days.

The difference between what we get in the Solar system and the 'Tatooine' stars isn't much. There's probably around a 0.7 percent reduction in what blows out from the stars: that's a difference of seven thousandths.

It's a very slight change, but might let a planet with a weaker magnetic field hold onto its atmosphere longer. Since new information about planets orbiting other stars shows that we've got billions of planets in this galaxy: even a very slight difference in the odds that a planet could support life could mean lots more planets with wet, sticky stuff growing on them.

And that, for the Lemming, is exciting news. Your experience may vary.

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