Recent evidence indicates that Earth may unexpectedly be orbiting a pair of stars, instead of just the one that most people call the ‘sun.’ And since we exist on this planet, there’s a reasonable chance that such orbits can yield habitable planets. The picture below was taken at the Charlotte, NC airport and appears to clearly show the two stars out on the morning horizon. This is an un-retouched photo — it’s just as it came out of the iPhone camera. (OK, the bottom part was cropped out.)
Binary stars — with two suns orbiting each other — were first discovered (in public consciousness) in 1977 in the first Star Wars movie, as Luke Skywalker gazed out from the planet Tatooine at the two stars in his solar(s) system. Since then, scientists have discovered that binary stars are actually fairly common in the universe.
Many stars are in binary (dual) or larger systems — perhaps one-third of star systems are binary (or more), meaning (do the math) about half of the stars are in these systems. But there is some controversy, that lots of little, harder to see stars are singles and thus binary stars are not quite as high a percentage. (Pretend to care about that for a moment … OK, done.) A visible-to-the-eye case is the second star in the handle of the Big Dipper, which has in the past been used as an eye test. It also turns out that the North Star is part of a triple star system (but two of them can’t be seen with the naked eye). Here’s how that works, using the Alaska flag for convenience.
There has been a fair amount of calculating going on, trying to figure out if a planet can orbit a binary star system in a stable, life-friendly way. A quick survey of the literature indicates that the definitive answer is: maybe yes, maybe no.
Some folks claim that if things are just right, like if two closely placed stars are about 80% as big as our sun (the one you read about, not the other one in the first picture above), then there could be some places where a planet could sneak in and orbit stably and comfortably for life to exist. There are, unfortunately, a lot of ways a planet in a binary system could try to orbit that would alternately freeze its local residents to death, followed a little later by cooking them to death, due to odd shaped or perturbed orbits (such as ones that eject the planet from the star system). Try this link for the hopeful story. Some other pictures here.
But another article studied this problem and, not to give things away or anything, they put the word ‘pulverized’ in their title, as in “Planets Pulverized in Double-Star Systems.” If you want to live there, at least housing should be affordable, and you should ignore any analysis of the planet’s orbit that includes the phrase, “Something chaotic is very likely going on.” Why worry about things you can’t affect?