JUPITER not only helped life thrive on Earth but scientists have also stated that it could help find alien worlds elsewhere in the universe.
Jupiter is by far the biggest planet in the solar system, with a diameter 10 times smaller than the Sun – by comparison, Earth’s diameter is 109 times smaller than the Sun. As a result, the gas giant has a tremendous gravitational pull which helps to keep the solar system in place. Now a team of researchers have found that the very nature of Jupiter’s orbit has helped protect Earth and allow life on our planet to thrive.
The research paper published in the online journal arXiv and accepted into The Astronomical Journal said that the team ran simulations on Jupiter’s orbit, and found that if it had been different, the orbits of other planets in the solar system would be different too.
If Earth’s orbit had been changed by a different position of Jupiter, it could have had a huge effect on how life evolved.
The simulations also showed how other planets’ orbit in the solar system could have been altered – or even ejected from our planetary neck of the woods.
The team wrote: “By varying the orbit of Jupiter and keeping the initial orbits of the other planets constant, we demonstrate how subtle changes in Solar system architecture could alter the Earth’s orbital evolution.”
Study lead author Jonathan Horner told ScienceAlert: “In about three quarters of our simulations, as we move Jupiter around, we put it in places where, within 10 million years, the Solar System fell apart.
“The planets started crashing into each other and being ejected from the Solar System.”
However, this also means that in a quarter of simulations, Earth was still a good habitat for life to thrive – something which runs counter to the rare Earth hypothesis.
The rare Earth hypothesis suggests that the conditions on Earth are so unusual that it would be rare to find anything so similar elsewhere in the cosmos.
The new research massively opens up the possibilities of finding alien life, the researchers said.
They conclude in their study: “This finding runs counter to the `Rare Earth’ hypothesis, which suggests that conditions on Earth are so unusual that life elsewhere is essentially impossible.
“Our results highlight how dynamical simulations of newly discovered exoplanatory systems could be used as an additional means to assess the potential targets of biosignature searches, and thereby help focus the search for life to the most promising targets.”
Mr Horner said: “Earth was pretty much bang in the middle. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t slow. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small. It was just really average.
“Which suggests at least for these kinds of orbital influences, orbital perturbations, instead of it being rare Earth, most planets that you find that are on Earth’s orbit in systems that we simulated would be equally suitable for life as Earth, if not better from the point of view of the cyclical climate oscillations.”