A change in Jupiter’s orbit could make Earth’s surface even more hospitable to life than it already is, according to new research.
Scientists at the University of California-Riverside (UCR) simulated alternative arrangements of our solar system, finding that when Jupiter’s orbit was more flattened – or “eccentric” – it would also cause major changes in the orbit. of our planet.
And this change caused by the orbit of Jupiter – the most massive planet in the solar system by far – could impact Earth’s ability to support life for the better.
Related: Jupiter’s true colors appear in new images from NASA’s Juno mission
“If Jupiter’s position remained the same, but the shape of its orbit changed, it could actually increase the habitability of this planet,” said study leader and Earth and planetary scientist Pam Vervoort. UCR. “Many are convinced that Earth is the epitome of a habitable planet and that any change in the orbit of Jupiter, being the massive planet that it is, could only be bad for Earth.
“We show that both assumptions are wrong.”
Planets with a more circular orbit maintain a constant distance from their star while more eccentric – oval-shaped – orbits move planets closer and further from their stars at different points in that orbit. A star’s proximity determines how much radiation it receives and how it is transmitted, which means it affects a planet’s climate.
If Jupiter’s orbit became more eccentric, the team found that Earth’s orbit would also be pushed to become more eccentric. This sometimes means that the Earth would be even closer to the sun than it already is.
As a result, some of the coldest parts of our planet would warm to temperatures in the habitable range — defined as 32 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 100 degrees Celsius) — for the wide variety of life forms in the planet. Earth.
The team believe their findings could help astronomers determine which planets outside the solar system – exoplanets – might be habitable.
Indeed, the distance of a planet from its star and its variation determine the amount of radiation received by different parts of it, thus creating seasons.
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Currently, the search for habitability depends on a planet being in its star’s habitable zone – the area around a star that is at the right temperature to allow liquid water to exist – but these results could introduce a new search parameter.
“The first thing people look for in a search for exoplanets is the habitable zone, the distance between a star and a planet to see if there is enough energy for liquid water on the surface of the planet” , said UCR astrophysicist Stephen Kane. “To have water on its surface [is] a very simple first metric, and it doesn’t take into account the shape of a planet’s orbit or the seasonal variations a planet might experience.”
Other factors can influence a planet’s habitability, and the team tested some of these as well. This includes the tilt of a planet which influences the amount of radiation it receives from its star.
UCR scientists have found that if Jupiter were much closer to the sun than its current distance of about 461 million miles (742 million kilometers), it could cause extreme tilt on Earth. This would result in our planet receiving less sunlight, meaning large areas of our planet would experience sub-zero temperatures.
While current telescopes are powerful enough to determine the eccentricity of exoplanet orbits, they are not as well equipped to measure the inclination of these worlds. This means that astronomers are working on methods that could help determine it.
This new research indicates that examining the orbits and movements of nearby gas giants could help infer this important factor of habitability.
“It’s important to understand the impact Jupiter has had on Earth’s climate over time, how its effect on our orbit has changed us in the past, and how it might change us again in the future,” Kane concluded.
The team’s research is published in The Astronomical Review. (opens in a new tab)
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