Aliens could be living on planets with two suns, say scientists

4 mins
24 May 2022
Aliens could be living on planets with two suns, say scientists

Groundbreaking new research provides a glimmer of hope for possible extraterrestrial life in binary star systems

image Wikimedia Commons

words Eve Walker

In the words of David Bowie, is there life on Mars? Well, no, but a new study by scientists at the University of Copenhagen has suggested that there could indeed be life on planets other than Earth – in the future, if there isn’t already.

From NASA releasing an eerie audio recording of a black hole, to the photo showing a door-shaped hole on Mars that sparked widespread speculation, the universe and all its mysteries has been a big talking point in the last month, paralleling some major technological advances.

And new research published in the journal Nature has indicated that scientists are on the brink of finding out one of life’s most burning questions; what else is out there?

Earth is currently the only known planet with life, and astronomers have long looked to other planets that orbit stars resembling our Sun in the search for extraterrestrial life. Recent new frontiers in research have found similarities in their planetary systems to ours, making them the next natural targets to investigate alien existence.

Planets surrounding binary systems (which are those with two stars that are gravitationally bound to and in orbit around each other) are the most likely to sustain life, according to the researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Nearly half of stars of a similar size to our sun are in binary systems, extending and increasing the habitable region further into space.

These systems have a greater probability of being close to a planet with liquid water, which is a necessity for life as we currently know it. Based on observations by the ALMA telescopes in Chile, which has 66 telescopes operating in coordination and studied a binary star system 1000 light years away from Earth, scientists were able to create computer simulations going backwards and forwards in time.

“The observations allow us to zoom in on the stars and study how dust and gas move towards the disc. The simulations will tell us which physics are at play, and how the stars have evolved up till the snapshot we observe, and their future evolution,” explains Postdoc and study author Rajika L. Kuruwita.

Professor Jes Kristian Jørgensen, the project leader, says that “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.”

“Comets are likely to play a key role in creating possibilities for life to evolve. Comets often have a high content of ice with presence of organic molecules. It can well be imagined that the organic molecules are preserved in comets during epochs where a planet is barren, and that later comet impacts will introduce the molecules to the planet’s surface.”

Before the end of the decade, the ELT (European Large Telescope) and the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) will complement ALMA and James Webb with thousands of telescopes across South Africa and Australia. The ELT will be the biggest optical telescope in the world, with a whopping 39-metre mirror.

“The SKA will allow for observing large organic molecules directly. The James Webb Space Telescope operates in the infrared which is especially well suited for observing molecules in ice. Finally, we continue to have ALMA which is especially well suited for observing molecules in gas form. Combining the different sources will provide a wealth of exciting results,” Jørgensen explains.

While aliens haven’t been found just yet, hold tight for 2030 when findings are expected to be projected.

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