Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New Definition Could Further Limit Habitable Zones Around Distant Suns

12.06.2009
New calculations indicate that, in nearby star systems, tidal forces exerted on planets by their parent star's gravity could limit what is regarded as a star's habitable zone and change the criteria for planets where life could potentially take root.

As astronomers gaze toward nearby planetary systems in search of life, they are focusing their attention on each system's habitable zone, where heat radiated from the star is just right to keep a planet's water in liquid form.

A number of planets have been discovered orbiting red dwarf stars, which make up about three-quarters of the stars close to our solar system. Potentially habitable planets must orbit close to those stars – perhaps one-fiftieth the distance of Earth to the sun – since those stars are smaller and generate less heat than our sun.

But new calculations indicate that, with planets so close, tidal forces exerted on planets by the parent star's gravity could limit what is regarded as a star's habitable zone and change the criteria for planets where life could potentially take root.

Scientists believe liquid water is essential for life. But a planet also must have plate tectonics to pull excess carbon from its atmosphere and confine it in rocks to prevent runaway greenhouse warming. Tectonics, or the movement of the plates that make up a planet's surface, typically is driven by radioactive decay in the planet's core, but a star's gravity can cause tides in the planet, which creates more energy to drive plate tectonics.

"If you have plate tectonics, then you can have long-term climate stability, which we think is a prerequisite for life," said Rory Barnes, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in astronomy.

However, tectonic forces cannot be so severe that geologic events quickly repave a planet's surface and destroy life that might have gotten a foothold, he said. The planet must be at a distance where tugging from the star's gravitational field generates tectonics without setting off extreme volcanic activity that resurfaces the planet in too short a time for life to prosper.

Barnes is lead author of a paper to be published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters that uses new calculations from computer modeling to define a "tidal habitable zone." Co-authors are Brian Jackson and Richard Greenberg from the University of Arizona and Sean Raymond from the University of Colorado. The research was funded by NASA.

"Overall, the effect of this work is to reduce the number of habitable environments in the universe, or at least what we have thought of as habitable environments," Barnes said. "The best places to look for habitability are where this new definition and the old definition overlap."

The new calculations have implications for planets previously considered too small for habitability. An example is Mars, which used to experience tectonics but that activity ceased as heat from the planet's decaying inner core dissipated.

But as planets get closer to their suns, the gravitational pull gets stronger, tidal forces increase and more energy is released. If Mars were to move closer to the sun, the sun's tidal tugs could possibly restart the tectonics, releasing gases from the core to provide more atmosphere. If Mars harbors liquid water, at that point it could be habitable for life as we know it.

Various moons of Jupiter have long been considered as potentially harboring life. But one of them, Io, has so much volcanic activity, the result of tidal forces from Jupiter, that it is not regarded as a good candidate. Tectonic activity remakes Io's surface in less than 1 million years.

"If that were to happen on Earth, it would be hard to imagine how life would develop," Barnes said.

A potential Earth-like planet, but eight times more massive, called Gliese 581d was discovered in 2007 about 20 light years away in the constellation Libra. At first it was thought the planet was too far from its sun, Gliese 581, to have liquid water, but recent observations have determined the orbit is within the habitable zone for liquid water. However, the planet is outside the habitable zone for its sun's tidal forces, which the authors believe drastically limits the possibility of life.

"Our model predicts that tides may contribute only one-quarter of the heating required to make the planet habitable, so a lot of heat from decay of radioactive isotopes may be required to make up the difference," Jackson said.

Barnes added, "The bottom line is that tidal forcing is an important factor that we are going to have to consider when looking for habitable planets."

For more information, contact Barnes at 206-543-8979 or rory@astro.washington.edu

Vince Stricherz | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu
http://www.astro.washington.edu/users/rory/publications/bjgr09.pdf

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Two dimensional circuit with magnetic quasi-particles
22.01.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

nachricht Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation
19.01.2018 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>