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One of the most famous planets with a pair of suns is Tatooine from Star Wars. The planet is a hot and dry desert for the most part, where water is a scarce and valuable resource. A study by Nasa conducted with the use of astronomical instruments such as the Kepler space telescope shows that liquid water can exist on planets with double suns, and with the right conditions can be habitable to life.
All of the known planets in orbit around binary star systems, are known to be gaseous. However, a hypothetical Earth sized rocky planet at just the right distance from a pair of stars can retain liquid water on its surface for long durations of time, according to a paper published in Nature Communications. The habitable zone around a star is the distance from the star where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet.
The Kepler Space Telescope.
For a binary star system, the habitable zone is calculated from the center of mass of the two stars as against the core of the star in systems with single stars. Additionally, the erratic orbit of the planets makes calculating the habitable zone even more complicated. On the outer edges of the habitable zone, a planet is likely to experience extreme swings in temperatures in night and day, whereas in the inner regions of the habitable zone, the temperature on the surface of the planet is not likely to vary too much.
Max Popp, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey commended on the findings, saying, “This means that double-star systems of the type studied here are excellent candidates to host habitable planets, despite the large variations in the amount of starlight hypothetical planets in such a system would receive.” Siegfried Eggl, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said “Our research is motivated by the fact that searching for potentially habitable planets requires a lot of effort, so it is good to know in advance where to look. Our research is motivated by the fact that searching for potentially habitable planets requires a lot of effort, so it is good to know in advance where to look”
A sunset of twin suns on Tatooine. Image: StarWars.com/ Lucasfilm.
The weather simulations used by the researchers showed a major difference between the Earth and a potential Earth sized rocky planet in orbit around a binary star system. According to the observed weather patterns, the cloud cover on a rocky planet with two suns in the skies is likely to be a lot less than the cloud cover seen on Earth. This means that the skies will be clear for brilliant views of the twin stars on planets such as Tatooine.