(ORDO NEWS) — Thousands of planets have already been discovered outside our solar system, astronomers are trying to figure out which of them may be suitable for extraterrestrial life. A new study proposed an interesting method for this – by calculating the mineral dust in the atmosphere.
Airborne dust, made of carbon-silicate material raised from the surface of the planet, is usually not taken into account when modeling the climate of the planets, but researchers say that in fact it can have a significant impact on the origin of life on the planet.
Think of the 1984 science fiction film “Dune,” – large volumes of dust can potentially affect the climate of the planets, depending on their composition and atmospheres.
The models created by the group simulate the effects of dust on planets tidally blocked, where the same side of the planet is always facing the star. The “day” side is cooled by dust, and the “night” side is heated by it.
“On Earth and Mars, dust storms have both cooling and warming effects on the surface, and the cooling effect usually wins,” says astrophysicist Jan Bootle from Met Office and Exeter University in the UK.
Researchers also found that on planets closer to the host star, dust can create a feedback loop that will delay the loss of water from a surface that would otherwise evaporate at higher temperatures.
At the other end of the habitable zone farthest from the star, dust can have a warming effect, absorbing and emitting infrared radiation. Ultimately, exposure to dust depends on a number of factors, including the balance of land and oceans on the planet and the composition of its atmosphere.
According to the authors of the new study, in future modeling, these factors should be taken into account, and it should also be recognized that dust can hide some of the key biomarkers, such as water vapor and oxygen, which are commonly used to assess the planet’s ability to sustain life.
“Dust in the air is something that can indicate the suitability of the planets for life, but also obscures our ability to find signs of life on these planets,” says environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain Manoj Joshi. “These effects need to be considered in future research.”
On Earth, we know that dust can have a significant impact on climate change and the modeling we use to predict it; thus, consideration of this factor in the search for life outside the Earth may mean that more planets are worth more attention.
Of course, studying planets from such a great distance in space is an incredible task, but as our telescopes improve and our calculations become more accurate, we can better determine where life can be present.
“Such studies are possible only by intersecting disciplines and combining excellent understanding and methods developed to study the climate of our planet with advanced astrophysics,” says astrophysicist Nathan Maine from the University of Exeter.
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