Until now, we know only one habitable planet, our own Earth. It is not surprising that in the search for other worlds suitable for life, scientists are guided precisely by it.
Although some work suggests that the Earth may not be ideal, some “super-habitable” planets provide even more comfortable conditions. The Earth itself could also become more comfortable for life – for this it is enough to slightly change the orbit of Jupiter.
In their search for potentially habitable worlds, astronomers look for a range of characteristics of a distant planet. This is, first of all, the distance to its parent star: it should be such that the planet does not warm up too much, but does not freeze completely, and liquid water can remain on the surface.
The second criterion is the size and mass of the planet, which should not be much larger than the earth. So far, we do not imagine that life could appear on a gas giant like Saturn or Jupiter.
You can also use other criteria that are considered important for the development of life on Earth – for example, the presence of a large satellite that stabilizes the rotation of the planet around its axis, causes ebbs and flows.
Sometimes Jupiter is added to this list, which weighs many times more than all the other planets in the solar system combined, and has a great influence on their orbits. It is assumed that if Jupiter moved only a little differently, life on Earth might not appear at all.
This influence was assessed by Pam Vervoort and her colleagues at the University of California at Riverside. Modeling a system of gravitationally bound bodies, astronomers tracked the movement of the Earth under conditions if Jupiter’s orbit were closer to it – and to the Sun.
Calculations have shown that such a situation is not very favorable for life, since it leads to an increase in the inclination of the Earth’s axis of rotation. Today, it ensures the alternation of the seasons, but a stronger deviation can lead to overly extreme temperature changes.
On the other hand, a slight change in the eccentricity of the orbit of Jupiter itself – without changing its radius – could only be beneficial. In reality, the orbit of the gas giant is almost strictly circular, but if it is slightly extended, then the orbit of the Earth would also be slightly extended.
Modeling by Pam Wervoort and her co-authors has shown that such changes could make the climate of many regions of our planet milder and more habitable than it is now.
“Many people are convinced that the Earth is the pinnacle of habitable planets, and that any change in the orbit of massive Jupiter will only worsen its position,” says Pam Wervoort. “We have shown that both of these assumptions are wrong.”
Of course, it is unlikely that these conclusions will ever force humanity to engage in the orbital “restructuring” of the solar system. But they will allow us to more accurately assess the potential habitability of planets near other distant stars.
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