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Habitable Planets Around Binary Stars, 15-9412

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Principal Investigators
Dirk C. Terrell
Mark A. Bullock

Inclusive Dates: 07/02/03 - Current

Background - The purpose of this project is to address the habitability of planets in binary star systems. Although binaries are very common (most stars are in binary or multiple systems), very little work has been done on the nature of planets in these systems. The discovery of planets in such systems and theoretical studies of planet formation in binaries indicate that planets can form in binaries, so the next question is whether habitable planets can form. Given the wide variety of binary and possible planetary systems, generalized and flexible tools are needed to simulate them. The development of such tools is the goal of this project.

Approach - Combining Terrell's expertise in binary stars and Bullock's expertise in planetary climatology, the team is coupling two existing codes to model climate development of planets around binaries. Terrell is modifying the widely used Wilson-Devinney binary star code so that it can generate low-resolution spectra of the binary as seen from arbitrary orientations. These spectra then serve as input to Bullock's climate modeling code. Although these codes can model a wide variety of planets and binaries, the exploratory work will concentrate on the very common W UMa binaries where two solar-type stars are so close as to be in physical contact.

Accomplishments - Work is proceeding on the necessary code modifications. Using more simplistic simulations based on these ideas, we were able to generate a model of a typical W UMa habitable zone for use in a proposal for external funding of the project that involves more sophisticated modeling of the evolution of the stars as well as improvements to the climate modeling code.

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