A change in Jupiter’s orbit would make Earth more habitable

The surface of our planet could become more hospitable to life if the gas giant, the aforementioned Jupiter, shifts its orbit, new models suggest. The study, published in The Astronomical Journalcould prove crucial in the search for habitable exoplanets.

If our planet is habitable, it is because it fulfills many important factors for the emergence of life. First of all, the Earth is at a good distance from the Sun to allow the presence of liquid water on the surface. It is geologically active and its axis of rotation is relatively stable. In the end, we somehow survived the asteroid attacks. This is due to the presence of Jupiter. The giant actually helped clean the solar system of this debris, but also made it possible to stabilize the orbits of the interior planets, such as Earth.

Jupiter’s influence on terrestrial life is such that we thought, until recently, that a change in its orbit would have disastrous consequences for our planet. In fact, everything depends on the change. A new study shows that if the gas giant had a more eccentric orbit, life on Earth would be better.

The more eccentric Jupiter hypothesis

The study looked at how Jupiter affects Earth’s orbit and axial tilt over time. The Earth has a very circular orbit (a near-perfect circle), while its axial tilt – which creates the seasons – is currently at 23.4 degrees.

These factors change slightly over time, however, and are subject to the so-called Milankovitch cycle. It is a measure of the total amount of heat received by the earth’s surface, known as insolation.

Part of the Milankovitch cycle is due to Jupiter’s low gravity. But since Jupiter also has a circular orbit, this is not a significant factor. As part of this study, the researchers created simulated solar systems involving a Jovian orbit with a higher eccentricity. They believe that a more eccentric Jupiter would make Earth uninhabitable. Finally they were surprised to see the opponent.

With an additional gravitational effect from Jupiter, the Earth actually has better insolationso some of the coldest parts of our planet will warm to more temperate temperatures.

Many are convinced that Earth is the epitome of a habitable planet and that any change in Jupiter’s orbit will only harm Earth.” said Pam Vervoort, co-author of the study. We show that both hypotheses are false.. »

Conversely, some changes can be detrimental. Researchers have found that if Jupiter were closer to the Sun, it would cause the Earth to tilt significantly. As a result, our planet will receive less sunlight, meaning that many areas of the Earth will experience subzero temperatures.

Europa, Io and Jupiter in background. credits: Wikipedia

Exoplanetary research

These results do not concern us directly. According to the latest news, Jupiter is not expected to change its orbit. On the other hand, researchers believe that this study will help astronomers to determine which exoplanets can be habitable.

Currently, the search for habitation depends on whether a planet is in the zone that allows the presence of liquid water on the surface. This is an important parameter, of course, but others, such as the shape of the orbit or seasonal variations – also plays an important role.

As a reminder, planets with more circular orbits remain at a constant distance from their star while more eccentric orbits bring planets closer to their stars at different points in that orbit. However, the proximity of a star determines the amount of radiation it receives and the way it is transmitted, which means that it affects the climate of a planet.

Current telescopes are powerful enough to detect the eccentricity of exoplanet orbits. On the other hand, they are not well equipped to measure the inclination of these worlds. However, astronomers can work with indirect methods – such as examining the orbits and movements of nearby gas giants – to find out.

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