Search for Life Could Target Binary Star Systems

Because of gravitational interactions early on in planetary formation, astronomers show how binary star systems may be the best places to search for life.

Beth Johnson


IMAGE: The ALMA telescopes in Chile. CREDIT: ESO/S. Guisard

While understanding stellar system formation and evolution is obviously great just for the sake of science, we all know that what really gets people interested is the possibility of finding life beyond Earth and particularly on an exoplanet. Now, in new research published in Nature, astronomers show how binary star systems may be the best place to search.

Project lead Jes Kristian Jørgensen explains: The result is exciting since the search for extraterrestrial life will be equipped with several new, extremely powerful instruments within the coming years. This enhances the significance of understanding how planets are formed around different types of stars. Such results may pinpoint places which would be especially interesting to probe for the existence of life.

The research was done with a combination of observations of a young binary system and simulations of its possible past and future. Because of the gravitational tugs of the two stars, the gas and dust in the young system get whipped up every few hundred years, and as a result, the stars brighten as the material falls inward. These hotter episodes then further disrupt the protoplanetary disc but could also be responsible for the creation of organic molecules.

Those molecules then end up on icy bodies like comets, which then deposit their water ice and organics on rocky worlds, and voila, the building blocks for life are readily available. And with all these up-and-coming space and ground-based telescopes on the verge of being complete, we may soon observe those molecules in a distant star system.

More Information

University of Copenhagen press release

Binarity of a protostar affects the evolution of the disk and planets,” Jes K. Jørgensen et al., 2022 May 23, Nature

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Beth Johnson

Planetary scientist, podcast host. Communication specialist for SETI Institute and Planetary Science Institute. Buy me a coffee: