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Beyond Earthly Skies

A Companion Planet Keeps an Alien Earth Habitable

13 Aug 2014, 22:00 UTC
A Companion Planet Keeps an Alien Earth Habitable
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

On Earth, the presence of tectonic activity maintains the carbon cycle and acts as a thermostat, moderating the greenhouse effect. Earth-size planets in the habitable zone are more likely to be habitable if they are tectonically active. The habitable zone is that swath of space around a star where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for a rocky planet to potentially sustain liquid water on its surface. However, tectonic activity is driven by internal heat. Since planets cool as they age, they will eventually have insufficient internal heat to drive tectonic activity. The demise of tectonic activity on an old, cooling planet could adversely affect the planet’s habitability. It is likely that tectonic activity would cease for Earth once it reaches an age of ~10 billion years.A study published in the July issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) shows that the gravitational pull of an outer companion planet can generate enough tidal heating for an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone to arrest its cooling. In particular, the models focused on Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of low-mass stars that are less than 0.3 times the Sun’s mass. The presence of an ...

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