Our Solar System has only one habitable planet: the Earth. But a new study has shown that other systems similar to ours may have not only one living planet, but seven. What’s more, the blame for being alone in our galaxy may lie with Jupiter.
The discovery was released this week in the magazine “Astronomical Journal“. The article published by the team led by astrobiologist Stephen Kane, from the University of California (USA), bases his observations on the concept known as” habitable zone “, which is the area around a star in which a planet would be able to have liquid water and thus life as we know it.
It was while studying a galaxy near the Solar System called Trappist-1 that researchers discovered three planets like Earth orbiting in the habitable zone. Kane says it made him think that the number of habitable planets orbiting stars could be much greater and that it “didn’t seem fair” that our star, the Sun, had only one.
The astrobiologist’s team developed a system that simulates planets of various sizes orbiting stars, creating an algorithm that represents the gravitational forces between these planets and how they interact with each other.
According to the calculations, the researchers found that some stars managed to have up to seven planets like the Earth orbiting around them in their habitable zone, and that following the same logic, the Sun should have another six habitable planets and not just the Earth.
So why are we alone in the Solar System? Stephen Kane suspects that Jupiter is to blame because he has a mass two and a half times that of all the other planets in the solar system combined.
“This has a big effect on the habitability of our Solar System, because Jupiter is massive and disturbs other orbits [de outros planetas]”said Kane.
It is important to note that not all the system has planets in their habitable zones. Only a few stars have the necessary conditions to have them.
The next step in the research is to look for smaller stars surrounded only by smaller planets. They will be the main targets for NASA telescopes, such as the Exoplanet Housing Observatory of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for capturing direct images.
In the study, Kane’s team identified a star, Beta CVn, relatively close to us, 27 light years away. Because it does not have a Jupiter-like planet, it was included as one of the stars to be analyzed by telescopes in search of planets in its habitable zone.
Future studies will also involve the creation of new models that examine the atmospheric chemistry of planets in habitable zones in other star systems.
Projects like these offer more than new avenues in the search for life in outer space. They also offer scientists a glimpse of the forces that could, one day, change life as we know it here on Earth.
“While we know that the Earth has been habitable for most of its history, there are still many questions about how these favorable conditions have evolved over time and the specific factors behind these changes,” said Kane.
According to him, it is by measuring the properties of exoplanets, whose evolutionary paths may be similar to ours, that we can have an idea of their past and what the future holds (and us). From there it will be possible to know what we must do to maintain our habitability.