How Does a Star’s Size and Luminosity Affect its Habitable Zone?

Question:  We are fortunate that the Earth orbits our Sun in the “Habitable Zone” where it’s not too hot, it’s not too cold and liquid water can exist giving life a chance to evolve. As stars vary so much in size and luminosity how do astronomers work out where the “Habitable Zone” is around any given star?  — David

Answer:  The definition as to what exactly is a “habitable zone” for planets orbiting a star is rather complex, involving many factors, including the type of star, size of the planet, and even the location of the planetary system in a galaxy.  A nice explanation of the constraints placed on the physical properties of a star which hosts potentially habitable planets can be found on the Penn State Astronomy Department e-Education description of the habitable zone.  Generally speaking, the larger or hotter a star is, the farther away its habitable zone will be (and vice-versa).

Jeff Mangum

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