Every time space junk is on its way to hitting Earth, astrophysicists brace themselves and begin assessing the threat. But luckily, that one guardian angel, sitting about 350 million miles from our home, deflects most of the junk that comes our way. This is Jupiter doing its cosmic work!
Were it not for Jupiter’s overwhelming gravitational pull, comets – mainly those coming out of the “Oort Cloud” – would have kept attacking us, as would the despicable asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So we have to thank the gas giant for defending us.
But aside from his exemplary defenses, he is also responsible for making Earth a habitable planet.
The planet’s orbit plays a key role in determining the climate of our homeland. If the gas giant becomes eccentric, meaning its orbit takes on an oval shape, it would theoretically make our planet more hospitable. To develop this theory, scientists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) created an alternative hypothetical solar system.
“If Jupiter’s position stayed the same but the shape of its orbit changed, it could actually increase our planet’s habitability,” said Pam Vervoort, UCR Earth and planetary scientist and lead author of the study.
For the extension to come about, the Earth’s orbit would have to be shifted. And as a result, the coldest parts of our planet would at times come closer to the sun and receive more warmth, putting them in the habitable temperature category.
In addition, the same study also proved that Earth would not remain as habitable as it currently is if Jupiter changes position. The closer it got to the sun, the more it would induce the earth’s tilt, causing several areas of the earth’s surface to drop below freezing.
However, because tilt is more difficult to measure than orbit, researchers have yet to estimate the effects of tilt.
“It’s important to understand how Jupiter has affected Earth’s climate over time, how its effect on our orbit has changed us in the past, and how it could change us again in the future,” said Stephen Kane, an astrophysicist and UCR expert co-author of the study.
The researchers want to use this knowledge to search for other habitable planets outside our solar system.
The results of this study were published in the Astronomical Journal and can be accessed here.
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