Innovative system assesses habitability of distant planets

Scientists have successfully developed a framework to study the atmospheres of distant planets and locate those planets suitable for human habitation, without having to physically visit them.

The classification of climatic conditions and the measurement of climate sensitivity are central elements when evaluating the viability of exoplanets as potential candidates for human habitation.

In the new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal. the research team examined TRAPPIST-1e, a planet located about 40 light-years from Earth and scheduled to be documented by the James Webb Space Telescope next year. The researchers looked at the sensitivity of the planet’s climate to increased greenhouse gases and compared it to conditions on Earth.

Using a computer simulation of the climate on TRAPPIST-1e, they were able to assess the impact of changes in greenhouse gas concentration.

The study focused on the effect of an increase in carbon dioxide in extreme weather conditions and on the rate of change in the planet’s climate. “These two variables are crucial for the existence of life on other planets and are now being studied in depth for the first time in history,” explains Assaf Hochman, from the Earth Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lead author of the work.

According to the research team, studying the climate variability of Earth-like exoplanets provides a better understanding of the climate changes we are currently experiencing on Earth. Furthermore, this type of research offers a new understanding of how the atmosphere of planet Earth could change in the future.

Hochman and his research partners found that the planet TRAPPIST-1e has a significantly more sensitive atmosphere than planet Earth. They estimate that an increase in greenhouse gases there could lead to more extreme climate changes than we would experience here on Earth because one side of TRAPPIST-1e constantly faces its own sun, in the same way that our moon always has a side facing the Earth.

As Hochman concluded, “The research framework we developed, along with observational data from the Webb Space Telescope, will allow scientists to efficiently assess the atmospheres of many other planets without having to send a mission to physically visit them. This will help us make informed decisions in the future about which planets are good candidates for human settlement and perhaps even finding life on those planets.” (EuropePress)