Photo by E. Sohn
Oct. 13, 2004
Original Calculations for the Habitable Zone in Trinary Star Systems
Alistair Thompson Hayden, 14, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Intel Achievement Award, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, 2004
Many stars in our galaxy are members of multiple-star systems. In searching for extraterrestrial life, it is important for us to know which star systems are habitable. The purpose of this project was to establish whether planets in trinary star systems can be habitable. To determine this, Alistair used the laws of physics to write a computer program to simulate the orbits of the three stars in hierarchical trinary systems (binary systems in which one component is itself binary) and one planet orbiting the solitary component. Then Alistair found whether the planet was capable of supporting life for long periods of time based on the total amount of energy received from all three stars.
In this project, Alistair showed that habitable planets can indeed exist in trinary star systems, though not in all instances. In addition, he found that, as the third component was moved further away from the binary component, the time period of the "envelope" containing the energy fluctuations as well as the stability of the entire system increased.
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