The earth it is the only planet known to harbor life. Therefore, when looking for extraterrestrial life, the logical thing is to focus on planets similar to ours or that they at least orbit stars similar to the Sun. Generally, these searches have been carried out in individual star systems. However, a new study, just published in Nature hand in hand with scientists University of Copenhagenpoints out that binary systems may be a good place to look.
Unlike individual systems, like our own solar system, in binaries the planets revolve around two stars. And it is precisely the interaction between these two stars that fosters conditions that could make them interesting targets in the search for extraterrestrial life.
It should be noted that these scientists have focused on the data obtained by analyzing only one of these systems. They have done it thanks to ALMA telescopefrom Chile, although they hope that soon the James Webb Space Telescope, whose instrument adjustment tasks are getting closer to completion. At the moment, with the information available to them, there are reasons to consider that its peculiarities could be extrapolated to other binary systems.
State-of-the-art telescopes to better understand binary systems
In fact ALMA is made up of 66 telescopes that work in a coordinated way. Thanks to them, these scientists were able to obtain very interesting data on NGC 1333-IRAS2A, a binary system surrounded by a disk of gas and dust.
Logically, the system can only be observed at a point in its evolution, such as when we take a photo of a human being. However, they also did a computer model that provided data both on its previous stages and on what would come later.
All this allowed them to verify that the disk of gas and dust does not move in a continuous pattern. In periods of 10 to 100 years every 1,000 years approximately the movement becomes much stronger and the brightness of the stars increases. This, as explained by the authors of the study in a statement, is due to the fact that the joint gravity of the two stars affects the disk that surrounds them, causing large amounts of material to fall towards them. As a result, it generates a great warm up which is what gives rise to that increase in brightness.
These phenomena are known as bursts and could affect the subsequent formation of planets around the binary system. And also to the possibility or not that they can harbor extraterrestrial life.
Extraterrestrial life aboard comets?
Ingredients for life are often known to travel aboard comets. This is because they usually have a large amount of ice harboring organic molecules. These by themselves do not necessarily have to give rise to extraterrestrial life, but they are still necessary ingredients for them.
Therefore, its impact on a planet in formation can be essential for it to end up hosting that life. This is something that was already known and has also been studied in planets revolving around individual stars. However, these scientists believe that the characteristic bursts of binary systems could play a fundamental role in the release of these molecules who travel aboard kites. “The heating caused by the gusts will trigger the evaporation of dust grains and surrounding ice. This can alter the chemical composition of the material from which planets form.”
In any case, this is still a hypothesis that would have to be thoroughly studied. In fact, this binary system analyzed by ALMA is too young to already host its planets. will have to do more observations in the future of this and other systems, both with the Chilean telescope and with other instruments.
For example, him james webb will be able to join very soon and then the ANDLT (European Large Telescope) and the S.K.A. (Square Kilometer Array). If all goes well, you should both be watching by 2027So we’ll have to wait a bit. But the wait will be worth it. And it is that the ELT will be the largest optical telescope in the world, with a mirror of 39 meters, and will be prepared to observe the atmospheric conditions of exoplanets. As for the SKA, it will be made up of thousands of telescopes located in Africa and Australia and will allow directly observe large organic molecules.
Finally, to observe the organic molecules present in the ice of comets, it would be necessary to have a telescope that operates in the infrared. That’s where James Webb comes into play, which is almost ready. He will be a great team and will surely be of great help in detecting the best targets in the search for extraterrestrial life. In the vastness of the universe, if we want to optimize the process, it is at least good to know where the telescopes should point.