According to recent research, a change in Jupiter’s orbit might make the surface of Earth even more suitable to life than it already is.
Scientists at the University of California-Riverside (UCR) studied simulations of several configurations of our solar system and discovered that if Jupiter’s orbit became more flattened, or “eccentric,” it would result in significant changes to the orbit of our planet.
Furthermore, this alteration in Jupiter’s orbit, the solar system’s most massive planet by a wide margin, may have a positive effect on Earth’s capacity to host life.
Pam Vervoort, a planetary and Earth scientist at UCR who led the study, said “If Jupiter’s position remained the same, but the shape of its orbit changed, it could actually increase this planet’s habitability. Many are convinced that Earth is the epitome of a habitable planet and that any change in Jupiter’s orbit, being the massive planet it is, could only be bad for Earth. We show that both assumptions are wrong.”
More eccentric, oval-shaped orbits move planets closer and further away from their stars at different points in that orbit whereas more circular orbits keep planets at a constant distance from their star. The climate of a planet is influenced by its proximity to a star since it influences how much radiation it receives and how it is absorbed.
Scientists discovered that Earth’s orbit would be forced to become more eccentric the more eccentric Jupiter’s orbit also is. This indicates that, occasionally, Earth would be considerably closer to the sun than it is currently.
About the Diverse Array of Life on Earth
As a result, some of Earth’s coldest regions would warm up and reach temperatures suitable for the diverse array of life on Earth, which is identified as being between 32 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 100 degrees Celsius).
The team believes that their findings could aid astronomers in identifying exoplanets—planets outside of our solar system—that may harbor life.
This is because the amount of radiation received by various portions of a planet depends on the distance from its star and changes over time, resulting in the formation of seasons.
The habitability search now rests on whether a planet is in its star’s habitable zone—that is, the region around a star where temperatures are suitable for the existence of liquid water. These findings may add a new search criterion.
Astrophysicist Stephen Kane from UCR stated, “The first thing people look for in an exoplanet search is the habitable zone, the distance between a star and a planet to see if there’s enough energy for liquid water on the planet’s surface. Having water on its surface is a very simple first metric, and it doesn’t account for the shape of a planet’s orbit or seasonal variations a planet might experience.”
The team also examined some other elements that may affect a planet’s habitability. This includes a planet’s tilt, which affects how much radiation from its star it gets.
The UCR researchers discovered that Earth might tilt dramatically if Jupiter were much closer to the sun than its current distance of about 461 million miles (742 million kilometers). As a result, our planet would receive less sunlight, resulting in subfreezing temperatures over a significant portion of its surface.
Even though today’s telescopes have the power to assess the eccentricity of exoplanet orbits, they aren’t as capable of measuring the tilt of these planets. This indicates that astronomers are developing techniques to ascertain this.
According to this new research, it may be possible to determine this crucial aspect of habitability by observing the orbits and motions of adjacent gas giants.
Kane concluded that “it’s important to understand the impact that Jupiter has had on Earth’s climate through time, how its effect on our orbit has changed us in the past, and how it might change us once again in the future.”