Planets that orbit two suns instead of one might be deadly hell worlds, but new discoveries reveal that sci-fi star systems with binary stars might be optimal places for alien life.
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A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common barycenter. Systems of two or more stars are called multiple star systems. These systems, especially when more distant, often appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, and are then revealed as multiple by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems.
The term double star is often used synonymously with binary star; however, double star can also mean optical double star. Optical doubles are so called because the two stars appear close together in the sky as seen from the Earth; they are almost on the same line of sight. Nevertheless, their “doubleness” depends only on this optical effect; the stars themselves are distant from one another and share no physical connection. A double star can be revealed as optical by means of differences in their parallax measurements, proper motions, or radial velocities. Most known double stars have not been studied sufficiently closely to determine whether they are optical doubles or they are doubles physically bound through gravitation into a multiple star system.
Binary star systems are very important in astrophysics because calculations of their orbits allow the masses of their component stars to be directly determined, which in turn allows other stellar parameters, such as radius and density, to be indirectly estimated. This also determines an empirical mass-luminosity relationship (MLR) from which the masses of single stars can be estimated.