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Other Solar Systems Could Be More Habitable Than Ours 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the mars-isn't-pulling-its-weight dept.
SternisheFan sends word of new research out of Ohio State University into the possibility of life arising in other star systems: "Scattered around the Milky Way are stars that resemble our own sun—but a new study is finding that any planets orbiting those stars may very well be hotter and more dynamic than Earth. That's because the interiors of any terrestrial planets in these systems are likely warmer than Earth—up to 25 percent warmer, which would make them more geologically active and more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life, at least in its microbial form. ... 'If it turns out that these planets are warmer than we previously thought, then we can effectively increase the size of the habitable zone around these stars by pushing the habitable zone farther from the host star, and consider more of those planets hospitable to microbial life,' said Unterborn, who presented the results at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week."
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Other Solar Systems Could Be More Habitable Than Ours

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @06:42PM (#42185701)

    For life in general, maybe. Possibly. But not us. Humans require a very delicate balance of things that while any one of them is quite common, there's not a lot of evidence that all of them together is. Oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere in the right concentrations, and a lot of H2O? Probably not hard to come by. Strong and uniform magnetic field to trap the atmosphere and deflect solar radiation? Hard to observe empirically; It could be very rare by some accounts. Presence of a moon or other astronomical event to keep the planet spinning on a single axis and not two? That's somewhat common, though limited evidence suggests the closer you get to a star, the less moons will be in orbit around each planet, so there is that. Stable rotation of the planet at a speed sufficient to prevent one side or another from burning up? Again -- evidence points to a moon being a good promoter of this, and not that uncommon. But we have no direct observation of how fast (most) of the planets detected so far in the habitable zone rotate.

    And lastly, let's not forget: We're rendering our own planet increasing inhospitable to life by the year. It may be that, in the future, we look for the presence of global warming as an indicator of alien life, as we frantically work to either save our planet, or try to find a new one to destroy.

    • You might want to add plate tectonics to the mix. There's a nice book [amazon.com] covering specifically all these issues.
    • Are we making earth less hospitable, or just less hospitable to the life that currently dominates? Sure the changes from global warming will cause humanity a great deal of trouble, but let's say humanity dies out but the increased temperatures stay in effect - wouldn't life just adapt to them eventually - it's just a few degrees.

      • by Elldallan (901501)
        if it's just a few degrees even humanity in it's current shape could easily survive.
        What will kill us isn't the rise in temperatures, it's most likely the wars over increasingly limited resources such as arable land, toss in a bunch of nukes and those acres won't be arable/hospitable for long.
        • Will there be less arable land, or will it just be located further north?

          • by dryeo (100693)

            Eventually it'll be located further north but it takes time for muskeg to turn into good soil.

      • by Bucc5062 (856482)

        while that is a big picture view, I'd think taking an attitude that while we are the top species, we'd at least consider the idea that pooping in our own house is not a good thing to do.

        • I completely agree. But let's not confuse a warmer planet with one that is less hospitable to life. We are messing things for ourselves and many species currently alive. But we are also making it better for some of the other species.

      • As George Carlin put it; "The Earth doen't need saving, it's the human's who are fucked".
    • Oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere in the right concentrations

      You may be surprised to know that life itself created our modern atmosphere, there was virtually no free oxygen for several billion years but there was life pretty much as soon as the things cooled down enough to allow oceans to form. Life put the oxygen in the atmosphere, the concentrations we have today are not just "luck".

      • You may be surprised to know that life itself created our modern atmosphere, there was virtually no free oxygen

        Which naturally means no other planet could possibly have developed differently from ours, perhaps in a way where oxygen isn't somehow trapped during its creation, or is later freed by a planetary event separate from the creation of life... /snark

        • by Patch86 (1465427)

          Oxygen is highly reactive; it doesn't stay put in the atmosphere for very long at all before it bonds with something else and stops being elemental oxygen. In order to have free oxygen in our atmosphere, it needs to be constantly replenished- whether by life (as on Earth) or some other process.

          Planets with an oxygen-rich atmosphere but no life just straight up can't happen.

    • Error, error (Score:5, Informative)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:33PM (#42188001)

      Sorry, lots of things wrong with that post.

      It's physically impossible for an object to spin on two axes - if you try you just get it spinning around some intermediate axis. What a moon does is gravitationally "knead" it's parent planet, causing tides in the atmosphere, oceans, and rock. That causes the planet to heat slightly, and may promote the development of life in other ways (tide pools may have played an important role in the early development of life on Earth).

      Also a moon will *slow down* its planet's rotation, not speed it up. That tidal heat dissipates energy until the planet is tide-locked with it's moon - in our case we'd have about 12 days per year. The same effect happens in the other direction as well, which is why only one side of the moon is visible from Earth. The sun has a similar effect, though weaker since the sun is much, much further away. Venus and Mercury likely have such long days because they're considerably closer to the sun and so the tidal forces are much greater - given enough time they'll be fully tide-locked and have permanently light and dark faces.

      Finally, finding a new planet for us to move to in order to escape the consequences of our actions is not a realistic option - Mars is a likely a viable terraforming candidate, but it'd likely be far easier to repair the damage to our own planet than make that desolate planet green, not to mention it would likely take at least several, and we probably don't have that kind of time if we don't get our act together. Even if we managed the terraforming, transporting several billion people interplanetary distances would likely be beyond our capacity in a relevant timeframe - we're currently adding hundreds of thousands of new people every day. We might be able to create colonies which would be nice for the rich, powerful, and highly desirable, but the vast majority of the population will have to deal with the consequences.

      • It's physically impossible for an object to spin on two axes

        Really? So you're saying it's possible for something to have only x or y motion, but not both? So if I take a dot and paint it on a ball, I can spin it so the dot is appearing to move along a straight vertical line... but there's no way that it can be spun so that from the observer's perspective, it could appear to be moving diagonally? It is possible for something to spin on two axis, because all objects in space are three dimensional and there can be positive or negative motion on any of those axis' relat

      • by dwye (1127395)

        It's physically impossible for an object to spin on two axes - if you try you just get it spinning around some intermediate axis.

        Having a large moon does act to reduce the precession and nutation of the axis, though. Mars will, over a few million years, change the angle of its axis enough that its extreme might be over 45 degrees; there will be similar changes to climate during the period. Having this much variability cannot be good for any life that arose during one part of the cycle, unless something else (like extensive oceans) buffers the changes to allow life to shift to where it is better. The distant large co-orbital planet

  • December 21, 2012 the date of first contact! Seriously, what will we do when/if this happens? Will it mean a paradigm shift for humanity or the implosion?
    • December 21, 2012 the date of first contact! Seriously, what will we do when/if this happens? Will it mean a paradigm shift for humanity or the implosion?

      Well, 1st contact will put our patent system in a serious disadvantage if they're more advanced than us. [insert conspiracy theory whereby Patents stifle contact with aliens in addition to innovation]

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      December 21, 2012 the date of first contact! Seriously, what will we do when/if this happens? Will it mean a paradigm shift for humanity or the implosion?

      It probably depends on how tasty the aliens find us.

  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @06:46PM (#42185747) Homepage
    Out of the unfathomable amount of planets in the universe, there just has to be a better one somewhere. Trouble is getting there
    • Out of the unfathomable amount of planets in the universe, there just has to be a better one somewhere. Trouble is getting there

      The technology required to get us there means living self-sustained in space. Then we'd only want for chemical resources, which we could get by flying through any nebula much easier than by mining a planet. If we find a better planet what makes you think anyone who could get there would want to?

      • because if you have a power, lifesupport, radiation containment, etc, failure on a space ship everyone on board would die. mean while on a earth like planet you have a power failure you can open a window for light and air, and nuclear fallout on a planet can be survived on a spaceship your shit out of luck

        • by Pfhorrest (545131)

          A planet is basically just a very large space ship with no engines. At the extremes of scale planets face the same problems space ships do (look at the climate problem -- we're overtaxing our atmosphere reprocessors, putting out carbon faster than it can be scrubbed out of the air), and space ships can offer the same solutions planets do.

          • it takes centuries for reach point of no recovery for climate change even then whats to stop adaptation/mutation form saving your species? on a spaceship your air filter system dies you die in hours

            • by fyngyrz (762201)

              Depends on the size of the spacecraft, the number of air filtering systems, power supplies, zones, etc. You're not really considering a properly engineered system there, just a naive design. As for climate change, think about what the impact of a good sized asteroid or comet would do. A spacecraft can simply dodge.

          • by fyngyrz (762201)

            Also, spacecraft can easily dodge big rocks and comets. Planets can't dodge those at all, and so far, we don't have any other solutions, either. Spacecraft can also hide behind other objects during solar storms. Planets, and those on them, just have to deal.

            There's also a fair bit of science you can do better on a (or many) spacecraft; astronomy, for one.

            Once manufacturing gets a proper foothold in space, assembly of (just about anything) will be a great deal easier as well. Gravity is really annoying when

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            A planet is basically just a very large space ship with no engines.

            And a human being's just a very complicated collection of cells.

  • by canuck57 (662392) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @06:48PM (#42185761)

    I can't help to think there is more intelligent life elsewhere. There has to be....

    As we just are too stupid to find it yet.

    I hope we live to see proof....just so the backwards amongst us eat crow.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      We're probably only going to find anyone who's trying to be found by backwater hicks (galactically speaking) using the methods we're using today.

    • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @07:33PM (#42186199) Homepage

      I can't help to think there is more intelligent life elsewhere.

      Me too. I keep waiting for news to come back from NASA's Voyager team about the probe making contact with an alien artifact just beyond the Heliosphere.

      My take on the Fermi Paradox is that there's a huge meta-material cloaked universal translator projecting a message to any would be visitors:
      --------
      Warning: Human Infestation
      This star system is Quarantined
      --------
      We apologize for the inconvenience.
      -The Gods

  • What is 50% warmer supposed to be? This makes no sense in physics. Only maybe if you refer to temperatures in kelvin.

    • by Zephyn (415698)

      It's probably talking about geothermal energy released in proportion to the planet's size. If you're talking about two rocky planets of the relatively same size and mass, the one with the greater content of heavy radioactive elements like Thorium will have the hotter core. This expands the planetary habitable zone outward since the higher internal temperature can compensate for the reduced solar radiation, so you'd have a wider range of planets that are capable of sustaining liquid water. A hotter core will

    • I'll bite. In kelvin, if we add 50% to the mean surface temperature of 287K, that would be.... 430K Which is damn hot. 315 degF for those of us in the U.S. who don't speak metric.
  • The term "Solar System" is a proper noun, not a generic term. The term the article was looking for is "planetary system."

  • We may have 25% less radioactive elements in our planet's interior than some of these other planets, but we have a large moon that is causing a significant amount of tidal friction. That should help close the internal heat gap a bit...and as a bonus it keeps our axis fairly stable.

    There are many different types of homes out there. Some just have better floor heating than Earth. I rather like our bright heat lamp in the sky...so do the plants in my yard.

    A good discovery nonetheless. I'm excited that life

  • This is one of those mind-bogglingly vaguely self-evident articles that you still can't help but try to correct (well, at least I can't.)

    For what definition of habitable? For a given hypothetical type of plasma-based or magnetic life, I imagine the sun is a pretty happening place to hang out.

    And yet, no matter what definition you use for habitable, what does "more" habitable mean? Surely it either is, or isn't. What are we measuring here?

    And yet, no matter what definition you use or how you measure it, t

  • Hotter and more dynamic might be great for evolving bacteria, but it might be problematic for things like civilizations or intelligent life. One of the improbable things about Earth IMO is not that life evolved in the first place, but that the surface remained kinda sorta stable for oh, two billion years - long enough for it to grow incredibly complex. A lot of heat and dynamism might get you life evolving over and over to the multi-celled organism stage - and then getting wiped out.
  • That's because the interiors of any terrestrial planets in these systems are likely warmer than Earth—up to 25 percent warmer, which would make them more geologically active and more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life, at least in its microbial form.

    The bolded part is impossible. The probability of the Earth retaining enough liquid water to support life -- and not just in its microbial form -- is 100% (its known that it does, so there is no probability that it does not.) So its no

    • by dwye (1127395)

      Oh? Say that again in another billion years, when the Sun heats up enough to evaporate all the liquid water on the Earth, probably turning it into another Venus.

      • Oh? Say that again in another billion years, when the Sun heats up enough to evaporate all the liquid water on the Earth, probably turning it into another Venus.

        The comparison wasn't to Earth of the future, but, if it was a comparison to Earth "when the Sun heats up enough to evaporate all the liquid water on Earth", then saying that planets in the systems studied would be "warmer than Earth [...] which would make them [...] more likely to retain enough liquid water to support life" would still be impossi

  • Reminds me of a saying:

    The Moon is just like the Earth, only deader.

  • But they keep telling us warmer is going to be catastrophic. ;-)
  • But that's not what Al Gore told me!

  • Does Al Gore know about this? They don't stop. They're never going to stop. It's what they do.
  • How many have a moon stabilized system to keep the planet from tumbling?
  • by wurp (51446)

    Why are we impressed with this?

    A typical quasar looks about as bright from 33 light years away as the sun does from earth. A quasar's lifespan is from tens of millions to a few billion years.

    That means in galaxies with a quasar, there is a shell 33 light years in radius, and a few light years in thickness, in which essentially every planet in every stellar system (as well as rogue planets and moons) is in the "habitable zone".

    That seems way cooler to me than speculation about a few planets being in the habi

  • on the other side of the galaxy

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