What conditions could help more parts of Earth host life?

Researchers find out an often overlooked key role played by the orbit of Jupiter on Earth.

Most planets have eccentric orbits. While circular orbits around a star would ensure that the distance between the star and the planet never changes, these eccentric orbits mean that the planets traverse around a star in an oval-shape. As a result, the planet would receive more heat when it goes closer to the star, affecting the planet’s climate.

Alternative solar system

Based on this knowledge and using detailed data from the solar system as we know it today, researchers from the University of California Riverside created an alternative solar system. In this hypothetical theoretical system, they were able to show that if Jupiter’s orbit were to become more eccentric, then it would lead to big changes in Earth’s orbit, thereby making the Earth more hospitable than it is currently.

This is because Jupiter in this theoretical system would push Earth’s orbit to be even more eccentric. As a result, parts of Earth would sometimes get closer to the sun. This would mean that even parts of Earth’s surface that are now sub-freezing will get warmer. In effect, the habitable range on the surface of the Earth would be increased.

Assumptions proven wrong

 The findings of this research, published in September in Astronomical Journal, go against two long-held scientific beliefs with respect to our solar system. One of these is that the current avatar of Earth is the best in terms of habitability. The second one is that changes to Jupiter’s orbit could only be bad for Earth.

Apart from upending these long-held assumptions, the researchers are looking to apply their findings in the search of exoplanets – habitable planets around other stars. While existing telescopes are adept at measuring a planet’s orbit, the same cannot be said about measuring a planet’s tilt towards or away from a star- another factor that could affect habitability.

The model developed in this research helps us better understand the impact of the biggest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, on Earth’s climate through time. Additionally, it also paves the way to find out how the movement of a giant planet is crucial in making predictions about habitability of planets in other systems.

Picture Credit : Google 

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