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Rocky planets around cool stars may have Earthlike climates

Atmospheric heating might be the secret to keeping planets spinning

By
2:00pm, January 15, 2015
Red dwarf planet

SPINNING WORLDS  Small, rocky planets around cool, red stars, seen in this illustration, might be more hospitable to life than previously suspected.

There may be more Earthlike environments in the universe than previously thought. Warm, rocky planets that orbit close to their stars might not end up with one side in perpetual daylight as suspected, allowing such planets to sustain an environment hospitable to life.

For the first time, researchers have shown that the gentle tug of a star’s gravity on a relatively thin atmosphere can keep a planet spinning even when other forces threaten to slow it down. While planetary scientists have long suspected that this process keeps Venus slowly turning, the mechanism could also work on a planet without Venus’ massive atmosphere, Jérémy Leconte, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto, and colleagues report online January 15 in Science.

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