Our planet is currently the only one known to host life as we know it. This’s why, while looking for extraterrestrial life, researchers have traditionally concentrated on planetary systems that are comparable to our own, almost ignoring the fact that the binary star systems with wobbly jets could have chances of hosting life.

Now, according to new research published in the journal Nature on May 23, planetary systems form differently around binary stars than they do around single stars like the sun. And that these variances may have an impact on a binary star system’s ability to support life.

Binary star systems and wobbly jets

According to astronomers, binary stars make up nearly half of all sun-size stars. If the researchers’ theory is proven correct, it might double the number of systems that researchers are interested in investigating. Two stars orbiting a common core make up binary star systems. The pairs of stars in a binary system generally orbit each other with periods ranging from days to millennia; and they can be extremely near or very far away.

Astronomers have discovered that binary star systems make up more than half of all sun-size stars, indicating that they’re rather frequent. Most of them don’t appear to have an impact on the formation of planets around their host star. However, some people do. Astronomers are still perplexed as to why some binary star systems appear to have more planets than others when it comes to hosting planets. Wobbly jets are gas and dust jets that emerge from the central stars in binary star systems. These jets can start near to the star. And then they grow outward over time, generating rings of material surrounding the two stars, according to astronomers. As a result, the star is surrounded by a “double-bubble” system.

Disagreements about the finding

However, there is still considerable disagreement over how frequent this type of organization is. Some astronomers think these systems are rare. It’s because it’s difficult to find a target binary star system from which to study them. A star system is said to host life when a planet in orbit around one of its stars has conditions that allow it to support life.  One way scientists can search for planets with these conditions is by looking for the ‘signature’ of gases like oxygen and methane within a star system’s atmosphere. To-date, scientists assumed that only the star systems like ours could host life. It was because of the way planets are thought to form around them.

But, there’s also some debate about whether planets form around solo stars or binary systems, as well. Jes Kristian Jørgensen, the study lead author and professor of astrophysics and planetary science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement that the result was exciting, since the search for extraterrestrial life would be equipped with several new, extremely powerful instruments within the coming years. The professor further added, “This enhances the significance of understanding how planets are formed around different types of stars.

New study and its results

Such results may pinpoint places which would be especially interesting to probe for the existence of life. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescopes in Chile, the study was based on the observations of the young binary star system NGC 1333-IRAS2A. That system is around 1,000 light-years away and is surrounded by a disc of gas and dust that may one day form a planetary system. The scientists then developed simulations that allowed them to rewind and fast-forward the system’s life cycle. They noticed that the gas and dust did not move in a continuous pattern.

The researchers added in a statement that the movement becomes quite strong at some points in time – normally for relatively short durations of 10 to 100 years per thousand years. “The binary star gets 10 to 100 times brighter until it returns to its normal form,” they noted. What the team theorized was that at certain points in the stars’ orbits around each other, their gravity pulls material from the gas and dust disk onto the surfaces of the stars. In turn, these bursts of infalling trigger wobbly jets shooting out from the disk.

“The falling material will trigger a significant heating”, report said quoting to second author Rajika L. Kuruwita, a postdoctoral researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute, as saying. L. Kuruwita also added that those bursts would tear the gas and dust disk apart. While the disk would build up again, the bursts might still influence the structure of the later planetary system. According to the team of astronomers, solo stars like the sun probably would not have gone through a similar process. It likely means that planets form differently around solo stars than they do around binary stars.

Astronomers’ future plan

Likewise, researchers say they also plan to investigate the possible role of comets in planetary system formation; as comets carry organic molecules that could jump-start extraterrestrial life on an otherwise barren planet.

The team of astronomers hopes to continue their observations with ALMA. And they’re looking forward to tapping into the next generation of telescopes. Such telescopes include the James Webb Space Telescope, Europe’s Extremely Large Telescope, and the Square Kilometer Array, all of which will begin operations within the next five years. “Combining the different sources will produce a lot of intriguing results,” Jrgensen added. If this theory is proven correct, it could reveal more knowledge about planet formation; and perhaps it will assist astronomers in identifying prime planet-forming areas. It could also disclose previously unknown possibilities for planetary systems. Thanks to further understanding of the composition and behavior of wobbly jets, astronomers could even propose new methods for creating planets within a laboratory setting.

More importantly, this research may pave a new way to search for extraterrestrial lives on some other planets with different star and planetary systems.

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