Illustration by Lynette Cook
“Cloudy with a chance of life” is astronomers’ latest forecast for Earth-sized exoplanets, even if they tightly hug their stars.
Planets that sit too close to their stars should be sizzling hot and are tidally locked — one side of the planet always faces the star while the other side is always dark. But new climate simulations indicate that clouds can help mitigate the heat. On tidally locked Earth-sized planets that orbit red dwarfs, stars slightly smaller and cooler than the sun, clouds may reflect enough radiation to keep the temperature cool enough for liquid water. The clouds also should hold in enough radiation to warm the planet’s dark side.
The findings could double the number of potentially habitable Earth-sized planets around red dwarfs, Jun Yang of the University of Chicago and colleagues report in the July 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.
J. Yang, N.B. Cowan and D.S. Abbot. Stabilizing cloud feedback dramatically expands the habitable zone of tidally locked planets. The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Vol. 771, July 10, 2013, p. L45. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/771/2/L45. [Go to]
A. Grant. Most Earthlike planets yet seen bring Kepler closer to its holy grail. Science News. Vol. 183, May 18, 2013, p. 5. [Go to]
N. Drake. Super-Earth spotted in life-friendly zone. Science News. Vol. 181, March 10, 2012, p. 14. [Go to]
R. Cowen. The hunt for habitable planets. Science News. Vol. 174, December 20, 2008, p. 16. [Go to]
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