Are Habitable Binary Planets Possible?


As we seek out planets orbiting stars inside their habitable zones, astronomical techniques are becoming so sophisticated that, one day, we may be able to probe the atmosphere of a distant exo-Earth — i.e. a rocky exoplanet possessing liquid water on its surface with potential biosignatures in its atmosphere.

But let’s take this idea one step further.

If there’s one thing we are beginning to realize with exoplanetary studies, it’s that there is a huge variety of alien worlds out there and, of the billions of stars in our galaxy, just about every conceivable configuration of exoplanet size and orbit should be possible.

PHOTOS: How Aliens Can Find Us (and Vice Versa)

In a new study presented at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Tucson, Ariz., earlier this month, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) discussed the possibility of habitable binary planets; a configuration that, if the conditions are right, life could take root on both bodies orbiting inside the habitable zone of their star.

Probably the most familiar example of what could be considered to be a binary planet is that of the Pluto-Charon system. Although Charon is officially recognized as the biggest moon of Pluto and not a binary partner, in a recent Discovery News article I argued the case for making dwarf planet Pluto and satellite Charon a binary planet.

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