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Space

How Gaseous, Neptune-Like Planets Can Become Habitable 65

An anonymous reader writes: Life as we know it requires small, rocky planets. The gas giants of our solar system aren't habitable (to our knowledge), but a research team has discovered that smaller, Neptune-like planets can be transformed into gas-free, potentially habitable worlds with a little help from red dwarf stars. Such planets are usually formed far out in a planetary system, but tidal forces can cause them to migrate inward. When they reach the habitable zone of their host star, they absorb far larger amounts of x-ray and ultraviolet radiation. This can eventually boil off most of the the gas atmosphere, leaving behind the core: a small, rocky world capable of supporting life.
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How Gaseous, Neptune-Like Planets Can Become Habitable

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  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday January 30, 2015 @01:35PM (#48941007) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like a great way to make a Mercury type planet, but I'm not so sure it will be so great at making a place you would want to live.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      What makes you say they are targeting Mercury-like planets?

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      Mercury is not in the habitable zone. Being in the habitable zone is the first requirement after having a planet itself.
      • yes but even if it were in a habitable zone, it would still be drenched in xray and UV, so I'm not sure how habitable it would really be...

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          But a planet that starts out further from its star than the habitable zone, and migrates into the habitable zone, wouldn't necessarily burn up like Mercury either.
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Friday January 30, 2015 @01:36PM (#48941023)

    Wouldn't it be easier to terraform the moons of gas giants

    • by Anonymous Coward
      No. Gas giants have hellacious radiation belts that would sterilize any of their moons very quickly and prevent any type of radio communications. Basically, it'd be like trying to set up camp inside the reaction chamber in the nuclear power plant.
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        The is slashdot. Science has no place in speculation!

        • The is slashdot. Science has no place in speculation!

          Sir, I object to your use of the term "speculation"!
          Here, we do "rampant, mostly uninformed speculation*"!
          * Of course, that's just a guess on my part...

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Based on possible Europa missions (Europan?) with an intention to bore down through the ice to look for life in what's expected to be a vast ocean, I don't think that your view is universally shared.
        • by Livius ( 318358 )

          Ten km of ice can help with the radiation, so Europa is likely quite capable of supporting life. But Europa is not *habitable* by human standards.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Titan, a moon of a gas giant named Saturn, is not orbiting in a hellacious radiation belt and if it was warmed up might be habitable.
        Even most of Jupiters satellites are far enough away from Jupiter that the radiation would not be hellacious though in our system all the nice sized ones are too close.

      • Well, since moons of gas giants tend to be tidally locked, couldn't you just live on the side that faces away from the planet?

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      Nobody's talking about terraforming, especially not when it involves moving around a Neptune sized planet.

  • next daft question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ihtoit ( 3393327 ) on Friday January 30, 2015 @01:42PM (#48941085)

    Did Earth once possess a much larger (Neptune-sized or even larger?) atmosphere, maybe sometime way before the Hadean period? I can see the hydrogen/helium literally boiling off by a warming sun, leaving behind the heavier gases. Maybe we're looking at what Earth has now completely in the wrong way, considering that even at 430km the ISS is being slowed by atmospheric drag - common assumption has it that "Space" occurs at what, shy of 100km? This Karman line isn't a solid boundary with Space above and Air below, it's a convenient mark on a piece of paper.

    • On the contrary, at the current rate of increase of smog production, Earth is going to transform into a gas planet.
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        at the current rate of increase of smog production, Earth is going to transform into a gas planet

        Fitting: Uranus created by your anus. Or perhaps rename it Ouranus after we fuck our planet up.

      • On the contrary, at the current rate of increase of smog production, Earth is going to transform into a gas planet.

        smog has been going down in the US for 3 decades. in china it is going up, however.

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      Maybe we're looking at what Earth has now completely in the wrong way, considering that even at 430km the ISS is being slowed by atmospheric drag - common assumption has it that "Space" occurs at what, shy of 100km?

      Neptune's radius is about 25,000Km. Earth's radius plus the altitude of the ISS is about 6800Km. That's an awful lot of volume to burn-off.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or would it boil off just enough of the atmosphere to turn it in to a Venusian hell hole?

    • by nucrash ( 549705 )

      Venus would actually be pretty awesome if we managed to perfect carbon capture technology. Though we still have to deal with the problem of Venus being tidally locked. Yeah, not sure where I was going with this.

      To the Atmosphere. Balloons will be our savior on the dark side of Venus. :)

      • You also have to remove the SO2, the HCl and the HF.
        Honestly, the tidal locking is not a major problem, it just limits the size of the possible habitable range. The atmosphere is the main problem.

  • Gas giants (Score:2, Funny)

    by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 )

    The gas giants of our solar system aren't habitable (to our knowledge)

    Pfft! You obviously haven't seen Jupiter Ascending [imdb.com] yet! Then again neither have it, but that's beside the point.

  • Jupiter is going to crash into us! Everybody RUN!
    • No, no, no. It's just going to align with us and make it so we can jump and stay aloft for five minutes. I know it's true because I read it online somewhere.

  • Aren't the atmospheres on gas giants so thick and dense that we could make "Cloud Cities" that float on top of the thickest/densest parts of the atmosphere?

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Depending on your definition, you could do that on Earth. In fact it is probably easier on Earth because you don't have 200kph winds gusting up to 400kph.
    • Theoretically this is possible on the outer three gas giants. As Jupiter goes, it's gravity is far too strong, plus it has the most intense radiation. So you would want to set up shop on one of the three outer gas giants. Gravity on the outer gas giants is close to Earth's, about 1 g for all three of them. There are actually layers of their atmospheres with Earth-like temperatures, but they are low in the atmosphere where the pressure is extremely high (we're talking about enough to liquidity hydrogen)

  • Apparently the secret to creating a habitable world is to remove the cloud of gas that surrounds Uranus?

  • by Dareth ( 47614 ) on Friday January 30, 2015 @02:37PM (#48941411)

    "This can eventually boil off most of the the gas atmosphere, leaving behind the core: a small, rocky world capable of supporting life.'

    So after nano tech fiber makes space elevators possible, we can then work on a planet towing device to drag Jupiter in to the sweet spot where it will boil away and leave us Jupiter-2, Rocky Core Edition? Oh wait, first we need to drag a Red Dwarf star into our solar system. Damnable prerequisites.

    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      " first we need to drag a Red Dwarf star into our solar system."

      We already have a few Red Dwarf stars here, like Craig Charles and Chris Barrie

  • Looks like another example of how _some_ of Immanuel Velikovsky [wikipedia.org]'s ideas, such as those in Worlds in Collision [wikipedia.org], were actually plausible and scientifically interesting, at least at a basic level. It's too bad he felt it was necessary to sabotage himself by compressing all of his ideas together into an implausibly complex series of events taking place over an implausibly short timeline in order to make a kind of historical conspiracy theory.
  • Notice how the article used Neptune instead of Uranus as an example.

  • How do you boil off something already a gas? Sounds like we need a term for "heating a gas to the point molecules exceed escape velocity"...

  • Yes, but would a planet created in this way have a magnetic field? Another Mars won't help.
    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      Neptune has a pretty powerful magnetic field though it is a bit weird as it is off centre rather then going through the core.

  • Aren't the atmospheres of Neptune-like planets made mostly of fusion fuels? The atmosphere itself could be used as a fuel source to strip the planet of gas and ice.
    • According to wikipedia:

      Composition
      80 ± 3.2% hydrogen (H2)
      19 ± 3.2% helium (He)
      1.5 ± 0.5% methane (CH4)
      ~0.019% hydrogen deuteride (HD)
      ~0.00015% ethane (C2H6)
      Ices:
      ammonia (NH3)
      water (H2O)
      ammonium hydrosulfide (NH4SH)

      methane ice (?) (CH4â5.75H2O)

      So yes, there is a lot of hydrogen. However, to burn hydrogen you need oxygen. Where are you going to get that amount of oxygen?

      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        However, to burn hydrogen you need oxygen.

        For chemical combustion, maybe. I was talking about nuclear fusion. Any civilization capable of interplanetary or even interstellar travel has probably already developed the technology to harness artificial nuclear fusion as an energy source.

        So, terraforming a Neptune-like world would merely be a matter of building enough reactors and waiting long enough.

  • Is there some kind of reason we want to find things just like us?
    Isn't that kind of boring?

    • Is there some kind of reason we want to find things just like us? Isn't that kind of boring?

      We don't just want to find things that are like us.
      It's just that's it easier to look for, as we have a good idea what to look for.

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