September 30, 2022

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Modifying Jupiter’s orbit could make Earth more habitable

American and Australian researchers say that if the orbit of the giant planet Jupiter were slightly different, the Earth would be more suitable for life than it is today.

If you take a look at the other planets in our solar system, you will soon say: “They will become no more habitable than Earth.” If you go a little towards the sun, it quickly becomes too hot for life. If you go the other way, it will be very cold soon. But does that really make the Earth the pinnacle of “livability”? Or could it be a little better in secret?

Yes, say Pam Vervoort, a doctoral student in Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues at new scientific article. If Jupiter’s orbit was shaped differently, Earth would be more habitable.

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above the freezing point

Vervoort and her team concluded that through computer simulations of our solar system, Jupiter’s position and orbit have changed. Among other things, they made the elliptical orbit of Jupiter more elongated. As a result, the Earth’s orbit also began to deviate from a circle more than it is now. “A land like this would be a little warmer than ours,” Vervoort says. “As a result, the temperature will be above freezing for a greater part of the surface, which is favorable for life.”

She immediately adds that this effect cannot be compared to the current global warming. “It is causing very rapid climate change, which has negative consequences for many plant and animal species.”

maximum temperature

Moreover, the beneficial influence of Jupiter’s extended orbit on Earth has its limitations, Verfort continues. “If Jupiter’s orbit is too long, the entire planetary system will become unstable and the planets will collide.”

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You also don’t want Jupiter to be closer to Earth than it is now. “This causes the position of the Earth’s axis to wobble violently,” Vervoort says. “Currently, it makes an angle of 23 degrees, which ensures that we have seasons. If this angle becomes much larger, then a large part of the Earth’s surface temperature is below freezing in winter. In summer the temperatures will be very high. It is likely that Such rapid temperature changes are detrimental to the viability of a planet.”

‘Somewhat wild assumptions’

Simon Porteges Black, a professor of astronomy at Leiden University, finds it an interesting idea to look at how to make Earth more habitable. “We particularly know of several ways a planet could be less habitable than Earth.”

However, he is critical of the study itself. First, simulations by Vervoort and colleagues cover only 10 million years. “This is too short a period to say anything about the long-term stability of a particular planetary system,” Porteges Zwart says.

Second, astronomer Leiden calls it the “runaway assumption” that researchers treat the Earth in their simulations as a ball of solid matter. “The Earth’s axis moves partly because the Earth is partly liquid inside.” He also finds it a strange choice that the Moon is ignored in the search. “The Moon is very important to the angle of the Earth’s axis.”

Not a useful card

Another question is: Suppose that the elongated orbit of Jupiter in our solar system makes the Earth more habitable… Is this also the case for other solar systems? “No two planetary systems are exactly the same,” Vervoort says. “This is why you will have to determine for each system separately whether the gravitational forces in play are beneficial or harmful to the viability of a planet.”

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Unfortunately, this is not possible at the moment. “With current technologies, we can still learn very little about how other planetary systems work,” Vervoort says. “We may be looking at entire planets. It remains difficult to correctly estimate the masses of other stars and their planets. We also have almost no information about the directions in which the axes of planets lie outside our solar system.”

More applicable?

However, Vervoort expects some of the study’s findings to be more broadly applicable, such as: a Jupiter-like gas planet with an elongated elliptical orbit would generally favor Earth-like planets closer to the Sun, while it would be less useful if such a planet. The planet is very close to the sun. Close to his younger siblings.

However, Portegies Zwart believes that you will have to repeat the entire simulation of another planetary system if you want to be able to draw conclusions about it. “The moment you have to do a computer simulation to see what would happen if you moved Jupiter, say 10% closer to the Sun, you don’t really understand what’s going on, in terms of cause and effect. That means you would have to redo all your calculations for another planetary system.”

Sources: Astronomical JournalAnd the ScienceAlert