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S.A. Stern (SwRI)
Late in the Sun's evolution it, like all low and moderate mass stars, it will burn as a red giant, generating 1000s of solar luminosities for a few tens of millions of years. A dozen years ago this stage of stellar evolution was predicted to create observable sublimation signatures in systems where Kuiper Belts (KBs) are extant (Stern et al. 1990, Nature, 345, 305); recently, the SWAS spacecraft detected such systems (Melnick et al. 2001, 412, 160). During the red giant phase, the habitable zone of our solar system will lie in the region where Triton, Pluto-Charon, and KBOs orbit. Compared to the 1 AU habitable zone where Earth resided early in the solar system's history, this "delayed gratification habitable zone (DG-HZ)" will enjoy a far less biologically hazardous environment-- with far lower harmful UV radiation levels from the Sun, and a far quieter collisional environment. Objects like Triton, Pluto-Charon, and KBOs, which are known to be rich in both water and organics, will then become possible sites for biochemical and perhaps even biological evolution. The Sun's DG-HZ may only be of academic interest owing to its great separation from us in time. However, several 108 approximately solar-type Milky Way stars burn as luminous red giants today. Thus, if icy-organic objects are common in the 20-50 AU zones of these stars, as they are in our solar system (and as inferred in numerous main sequence stellar disk systems), then DG-HZs form a kind of niche habitable zone that is likely to be numerically common in the galaxy. I will show the calculated temporal evolution of DG-HZs around various stellar types using modern stellar evolution luminosity tracks, and then discuss various aspects of DG-HZs, including the effects of stellar pulsations and mass loss winds. This work was supported by NASA's Origins of Solar Systems Program.
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 34, #3< br> © 2002. The American Astronomical Soceity.