Friday, December 19, 2014

Humanity’s Next Home May Be Underwater


Planets with high obliquity—an axis of rotation that’s extremely tilted relative to their star—are typically reckoned to be miserable places where temperatures flip-flop between freezing and boiling. Now, MIT researchers find that life aquatic may yet thrive on highly tilted planets. Aquaplanets, or worlds covered entirely by oceans, can actually be quite cozy, even those that are totally sideways, orbiting their star like a rotisserie chicken.

The findings, which hail from researchers at MIT’s Department of Physics and Earth and Planetary Science, were publishe​d today in the journal Icarus. The study may have far-reaching implications on the search for extraterrestrial life.

Conventional wisdom asserts that the more extreme a planet’s tilt, the less hospitable that planet would be. Tilted sideways, a planet’s north pole would experience incessant daylight for six months, followed by half a year of utter darkness.

“The expectation was that such a planet would not be habitable: It would basically boil, and freeze, which would be really tough for life,” study co-author David Ferreira said in ​a press release.

Planets with a global ocean experience peachy, spring-like weather year-round

Instead, Ferreira and his colleagues found that planets with a global ocean experience peachy, spring-like weather year-round. To reach that conclusion, the researchers developed a climate model that simulates a high-obliquity aquaplanet—Earth-sized, a similar distance from its star, and covered entirely with water. Their simulations included planets tilted to 23 degrees (an Earth-like tilt), 54, and 90 degrees, with ocean depths ranging from 10 to 3000 meters

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