Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Circumbinary Terrestrial Worlds (Tatooines) Predicted

Planet formation around binary stars: Tatooine made easy


Bromley et al


We examine characteristics of circumbinary orbits in the context of current planet formation scenarios. Analytical perturbation theory predicts the existence of nested circumbinary orbits that are generalizations of circular orbits in a Keplerian potential. They contain forced epicyclic motion aligned with the binary as well as higher frequency oscillations, yet they do not cross, even in the presence of massive disks and perturbations from large planets. For this reason, dissipative gas and planetesimals can settle onto these "most circular" orbits, facilitating the growth of protoplanets. Outside a region close to the binary where orbits are generally unstable, circumbinary planets form in much the same way as their cousins around a single star. Here, we review the theory and confirm its predictions with a suite of representative simulations. We then consider the circumbinary planets discovered with NASA's Kepler satellite. These Neptune- and Jupiter-size planets, or their planetesimal precursors, may have migrated inward to reach their observed orbits, since their current positions are outside of unstable zones caused by overlapping resonances. In situ formation without migration seems less likely, only because the surface density of the protoplanetary disks must be implausibly high. Otherwise, the circumbinary environment is friendly to planet formation, and we expect that many Earth-like "Tatooines" will join the growing census of circumbinary planets.

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