Tides Make or Break Planetary Life

Posted by Michael Pinto on Oct 14, 2008 in Science |

NASA images of Jupiter's moon, Io, (left) Earth (center) and Mars (right), respectively, illustrate worlds with too much, just enough and too little tidal heating to favor life. Internal heating can dramatically affect the suitability of a planet for life. Internal heating produced by tides in Io is so strong the moon undergoes powerful global-scale volcanism. Earth's moderate internal heating drives plate tectonics that create a surface suitable for life. The negligible tidal heating of Mars may be why the planet is so geophysically dormant at present, possibly making it too cold for life.

I get very excited by the sheer number of planets that we keep discovering outside of our solar system, however the more we understand just what it takes to support life as we know it — to me it seems to be that the chances of finding alien civilizations decreases. Although on the bright side the universe is pretty damn huge and this research proves that we better take good care of our planet:

Tides Have Major Impact on Planet Habitability

“Astronomers searching for rocky planets that could support life in other solar systems should look outside, as well as within, the so-called “habitable zone,” University of Arizona planetary scientists say.Planets too close to their stars are roasted. Planets too far from their stars are frozen. In between, research models show, there’s a habitable zone where planet temperatures approximate Earth’s. Any rocky planets in this just-right Goldilocks zone could be awash in liquid water, a requisite for life as we know it, theorists say.

New research by Brian Jackson, Rory Barnes and Richard Greenberg of UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory shows that tides can play a major role in heating terrestrial planets, creating hellish conditions on rocky alien worlds that otherwise might be livable. And just the other way, tidal heat can also create conditions favorable to life on planets that would otherwise be unlivable.”

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