Planets can influence the habitability of neighboring worlds

Astronomers have found that large worlds can severely affect the habitability of neighboring planets.
By Joseph Scalise | Apr 23, 2018
Large planets can cause the worlds around them to become less habitable, according to new research outlined in theAstrophysical Journal.

Astronomers have long believed that habitable planets need to be rocky worlds with liquid water on their surface. However, in the new study researchers from New York University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that those two parameters are not the only factors that influence whether or not a planet can host life.

Rather, the team found that large neighboring worlds can greatly influence whether or not an exoplanet is habitable. In fact, such bodies typically have a negative impact on an exoplanet's habitability.

To reach that conclusion, scientists looked at 147 extrasolar planetary systems with giant planets and found that large neighboring world's make a planet less habitable even without altering its orbit.

"While in the majority of investigated systems the presence of the gas 'giants' shrank the habitable zone, they still left sufficient room for habitable Earth-like planets to be there," said lead author Nikolaos Georgakarakos, a researcher in the department of physics at New York University Abu Dhabi, according toPhys.org.

This information is important because it helps astronomers better understand distant or far off systems. It also may help the search for Earth-like planets because there is no reason to look in systems where a giant planet affects the habitability of the worlds around it.

However, the team also noted that there are some cases where a giant neighbor can help a planet become more habitable as well. That is because they sometimes keep a world stable and locked in a habitable zone. Such a process is important to study and the team plans to more closely look at it in the future.

"Under certain conditions, the presence of a giant planet can actually increase the size of the habitable zone, which is the area where your terrestrial planet receives the right amount of light in order to support liquid water on its surface," said study co-author Siegfried Eggl, an associate researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to UPI. "This is quite remarkable since the continuous gravitational pull of giant planets on their terrestrial neighbors mostly spells trouble for habitability."

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