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Habitable Planets: "Air Conditioning System" Creates Livable Climate

Sep 15, 2015 05:04 PM EDT
Rocky Planets
Two out of three possible climates on exoplanets that KU Leuven researchers recently examined are potentially habitable, thanks to an air-conditioning-like system.
(Photo : KU Leuven - Ludmila Carone)

As the search for a vacation home away from Earth continues, rocky planets outside of our solar system may be promising, according to University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium, researchers.  After running 165 climate simulations on exoplanets that permanently face their ''sun'' with the same side, the scientists discovered that two of the three are potentially habitable.

According to a news release, these exoplanets orbit closely to their small, cool stars, known as red dwarfs. Because of this, they always face that star with the same side, creating a permanent day and night for one or the other side. However, with an efficient "air conditioning system" -- by which the scientists mean that these planets avoid having extremely cold temperatures on one side and also avoid very hot temperatures on the other side. Conveniently, the orbital pattern of the exoplanets also makes them warm enough to house liquid water.

"On the basis of 3D models, we examined exoplanets with different rotation periods and sizes," Dr. Ludmila Carone, from KU Leuven, said in a statement. "We discovered that these rocky planets have three possible climates, two of which are potentially habitable."

Each of the three possible climates has varying wind patterns. However, only two did not interfere with the "air conditioning system." The two exoplanets that are considered to be potentially inhabitable had weaker wind jets facing west at high latitudes, and a weaker superrotation pattern with two high-latitude wind jets. Supperrotation is an eastward wind jet that forms in the upper layers of the atmosphere along the equator, and is what made the discarded exoplanet too hot to be habitable.

These findings, recently published in Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society, provide valuable insight for future space missions and research. The KU Leuven researchers are currently involved in the preparation of the 2018 James Webb Space Telescope mission and the 2024 planet-finder mission PLATO. 

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