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It's lucky for life on Earth that the sun's habitable zone is effectively stationary and unmoving, providing life with a steady source of radiation. But that isn't the case in every star system. Physicist Tobias Müller and astrophysicist Nader Haghighipour wrote a computer program that demonstrates how the position and shape of habitable zones can change rapidly in double- and triple-star systems, which are thought to be extremely common in the universe.
On a website the two scientists created to host the program (and make it available to other researchers) is an animation of the star system.
Three-star - System - KIC - Orbit - Zone
The three-star system KIC 4150611 has a peculiar orbit that creates a rapidly changing "habitable zone" (in dark green). The black dots are stars.
The oddly-evolving habitable zone of the three-star system KID 5653126. The black dots are stars and the dark green region is the habitable zone.
Extreme - Scenario - Star - System - KID
In another extreme scenario, in the star system KID 5653126, a stellar pair orbit closely around each other and create a mostly stable habitable zone. But a third star orbits the pair and wanders erratically through the habitable zone — a potentially disastrous event for any planets that might reside there.
These sample animations can be found here: http://astro.twam.info/hz/
. A complete description of the HZ calculator can be found here: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0004-637X/782/1/26/meta
. There are no known planets around the two-star systems mentioned above, but there are star systems with unstable habitable zones that are known to host planets. If researchers are going to go hunting for life on those worlds, it would be good to know ahead of time how a changing habitable zone affects a planet's habitability.
Planet - Tatooine - Star - Wars - Orbits
The fictional planet of Tatooine from the "Star Wars" universe orbits two suns. The planet is a harsh desert, but was supposedly temperate enough for life to evolve. Scientists have shown that planets...
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