Every time space junk is on its way to slam the Earth, astrophysicists brace themselves and begin assessing the threat. But thankfully, this one guardian angel sitting about 596.83 million km away from our home deflects most of the trash that comes our way. That’s Jupiter, doing its cosmic job!
If it weren’t for Jupiter’s overbearing gravitational pull, the comets — mainly those coming from the ‘Oort Cloud’ — would have repeatedly attacked us exactly like the despicable asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So we have to thank the gas giant for defending us.
But apart from its exemplary defence, it is also responsible for making Earth a habitable planet.
The planet’s orbit plays a key role in determining our home’s climate. Theoretically, if the gas giant becomes eccentric, meaning its orbit becomes oval-shaped, it would make our planet more hospitable. To develop this theory, scientists from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), created an alternative hypothetical solar system.
“If Jupiter’s position remained 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 study author.
For the elongation to happen, it would have to push the Earth’s orbit. And by doing so, the coldest parts of our planet would, at times, come closer to the Sun and receive more heat, thereby entering the category of habitable temperatures.
Further, the same study also proved that Earth would not remain as habitable as it currently is if Jupiter changes position. The closer it would get to the Sun, the more it would induce Earth’s tilt, making several areas of the Earth’s surface sub-freezing.
However, since it is more challenging to measure tilt than to measure orbit, the researchers have yet to assess the impact of tilt.
“It’s important to understand the impact that Jupiter has had on Earth’s climate through time, how its effect on our orbit has changed us in the past, and how it might change us once again in the future,” said Stephen Kane, UCR astrophysicist and study co-author.
The researchers are interested in applying this finding to search for other habitable planets outside of our solar system.
The results of this study have been published in the Astronomical Journal and can be accessed here.
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