March 15, 2008

Use of Computer Simulations for Exoplanetology

Alpha Centauri BRecent advances in computing power has provided us an even greater tool for study. Half of a mouse's brain has been simulated on neuronal details. In another development, part of a human brain has also been modelled, making me want to get tons of computers to simulate my brain, too. But now, hearing about the star-formation simulations made on Alpha Centauri B is wonderful news for exoplanetology. The findings of the simulation is that terrestrial planets are likely to have formed around the star Alpha Centauri B and to be orbiting in the Habitable Zone (HZ) where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. The icing on the lake ('pun' intended) is that such planets could be observed using a dedicated telescope.
To study planet formation around Alpha Centauri B, the team ran repeated computer simulations, evolving the system for the equivalent of 200 million years each time. Because of variations in the initial conditions, each simulation led to the formation of a different planetary system. In every case, however, a system of multiple planets evolved with at least one planet about the size of Earth. In many cases, the simulated planets had orbits lying within the habitable zone of the star. This makes Alpha Centauri B an excellent candidate for finding terrestrial planets.

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