Tilted planets may actually have more life favorable climate

Odd Tilts Could Make More Worlds Habitable

Pivoting planets that lean one way and then change orientation within a short geological time period might be surprisingly habitable, according to new modeling by NASA and university scientists affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

The climate effects generated on these wobbling worlds could prevent them from turning into glacier-covered ice lockers, even if those planets are somewhat far from their stars. And with some water remaining liquid on the surface long-term, such planets could maintain favorable conditions for life.

“Planets like these are far enough from their stars that it would be easy to write them off as frozen, and poor targets for exploration, but in fact, they might be well-suited to supporting life,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This could expand our idea of what a habitable planet looks like and where habitable planets might be found.”

graphical depiction of planet orbits

Tilted orbits might make some planets wobble like a top that’s almost done spinning, an effect that could maintain liquid water on the surface. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The new modeling considers planets that have the same mass as Earth, orbit a sun-like star and have one or two gas giants orbiting nearby. In some cases, gravitational pulls from those massive planets could change the orientation of the terrestrial world’s axis of rotation within tens to hundreds of thousands of years – a blink of an eye in geologic terms.

Though it might seem far-fetched for a world to experience such see-sawing action, scientists have already spotted an arrangement of planets where this could happen, in orbit around the star Upsilon Andromedae. There, the orbits of two enormous planets were found to be inclined at an angle of 30 degrees relative to each other. (One planet was, as usual, farther from the star than the other planet.)

Compared to our solar system, that arrangement looks extreme. The orbits of Earth and its seven neighboring planets differ by 7 degrees at most. Even the tilted orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto, which really stands out, is offset by a relatively modest 17 degrees.

“Knowing that this kind of planetary system existed raised the question of whether a world could be habitable under such conditions,” said Rory Barnes, a scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was part of the team that studied the orbits of the two Andromedae planets.

The habitability concept is explored in a paper published in the April 2014 issue of Astrobiology and available online now. John Armstrong of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, led the team, which includes Barnes, Domagal-Goldman, and other colleagues.

The team ran thousands of simulations for planets in 17 varieties of simplified planetary systems. The models the researchers built allowed them to adjust the tilt of the planetary orbits, the lean in the axes of rotation, and the ability of the terrestrial planet’s atmosphere to let in light.

In some cases, tilted orbits can cause a planet to wobble like a top that’s almost done spinning – and that wobbling should have a big impact on the planet’s glaciers and climate. Earth’s history indicates that the amount of sunlight glaciers receive strongly affects how much they grow and melt. Extreme wobbling, like that seen in some models in this study, would cause the poles to point directly at the sun from time to time, melting the glaciers. As a result, some planets would be able to maintain liquid water on the surface despite being located nearly twice as far from their stars as Earth is from the sun.

“In those cases, the habitable zone could be extended much farther from the star than we normally expect,” said Armstrong, the lead author of the paper. “Rather than working against habitability, the rapid changes in the orientation of the planet could turn out be a real boon sometimes.”

51 thoughts on “Tilted planets may actually have more life favorable climate

  1. If poles of these planets can move around so much that they point at the sun, causing the glaciers/ice at that pole to melt, with the opposite effect at the other pole, it might well make them more ‘habitable”, but such huge variations in climate and sunlight/darkness over relatively short time periods would make it extremely unlikely that life could ever get a foothold there, let alone evolve anything like intelligence.

  2. Proposal for a modified Drake Equation wherein the result is = 1.

    N= R* fp ne fl fi fc fL : Drake Equation

    My Equation: ,

    1=R*Fa Fb Fc… Fn,

    where Fa is a finely tuned attribute, Fb is yet another finely tuned attribute, Fc is yet another finely tuned attribute, and as many finely tuned attributes up to Fn such that the number of civilized planets is = 1.

    In the case of of a stable tilt in the planet due to a moon, lets call that another, say Fd

  3. Yeah, if you can’t model climate here, what unimaginable hubris allows you to think you can model it elsewhere with absolutely no knowns at all? All these ‘simulations’ only show the prejudice of whoever specced them.

  4. ‘Odd Tilts Could Make More Worlds Habitable’ and it’s part of climate change theory!

    ‘Nearer our own time, the coming and going of the ice ages that have gripped the planet in the past two million years were probably triggered by fractional changes in solar heating (caused by wobbles in the planet’s orbit, known as Milankovitch cycles’

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11650-climate-myths-global-warming-is-down-to-the-sun-not-humans.html

  5. “according to new modeling by NASA and university scientists affiliated with the NASA ” … wow, those guys are so clever, they could not possibly be wrong about anything.

  6. Is this the same “nasa” that is letting the public vote on spacesuit designs whilst not actually being in possession of a reliable launch vehicle…that “nasa”?

  7. Now all we gotta do is go find one of those planets. Let’s hop in a space ship and… oh, wait… NASA…

    Maybe the Chinese can go have a look.

  8. Let’s see if I’ve understood – life would have no problem surviving the violent upheavals associated with the axis of the planet’s rotation changing, but we’ll all die if global warming causes a couple of degrees rise in surface temperature.

    Obviously the Astronomers should have checked with the IPCC, before recklessly suggesting climate variation can be beneficial :-)

  9. Yeah, because we know soooo many tilted planets in a large number of different solar systems we can reach that conclusion.

  10. I think they are referring to the tilt of the plane of the orbits being different, not the tilt of the planets axis…

  11. “The new modeling considers planets that have …”

    Utter and complete fantasy and speculation so typical of modern “climate science”. We have “scientific models” that tell us that CO2 drives the earth’s climate and will fry/drown us all if it goes over 350 ppm (yes, parts per million) but we have had no warming for damn near 20 years even as CO2 went to 400 ppm. Fracking geniuses over there at NASA.

  12. Let’s take two examples.

    Earth with no axis tilt. The planet would be a permanent Snowball. The high latitude regions would initially have temperatures like they currently have in April or October. Result, no snow melt, no sea ice melt, glaciers build up move to lower latitudes, Albedo rises, more ice and so on. Iceball. Maybe the tropics would escape the ice. Maybe life in the dark ocean under the ice or at the 0.0C tropics only.

    How about an Earth-sized planet in Mars orbit which is permanently tilted at 90 degrees. The side facing the Sun would be heated day after day, accumulating joule after joule, and it would get extremely hot at the points directly facing the Sun. The areas at 30 degrees solar angle would probably be a nice warm temperature with 24 hour sunlight despite being farther away from the Sun.

  13. Life evolved on planet earth to adapt to the conditions on planet earth.

    Planets DO NOT evolve to provide conditions for life.

    Goldilocks moved to the bed that she found most comfortable sleeping in; the bed did not adjust to he likes and dislikes.

    Nyet on the existence of a Goldilocks zone.

    Wake me up when they find one of these inhabited wobble tops !!

  14. charles nelson says:
    April 17, 2014 at 1:42 am
    Is this the same “nasa” that is letting the public vote on spacesuit designs
    =============
    In the new nasa the “runway” has an entirely different meaning. we are “launching” this years new fashion line. it is too fabulous, dahling.

    take a barrel of apples. if you don’t routinely remove the rotten ones, the whole barrel will soon spoil. institutions are the same. once the rot sets in, there is no stopping it.

    the day nasa was re-targeted to explore a “mission to planet earth” was the first day of the end for nasa. the telescopes were turned inwards instead of outwards. the money that should have gone for space exploration was instead funneled to climate science and the rest is history.

  15. one couldn’t make this up. MTPE was announces back in the 70’s, when the moon missions were cancelled with the launch vehicles already built, the crews trained and ready to go.

    Mission to Plane Earth
    NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is dedicated to understanding the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. The MTPE Enterprise is pioneering the new discipline of Earth system science, with a near-term emphasis on global climate change. Space-based and in situ capabilities presently being used or developed yield new scientific understanding and practical benefits to the Nation.

    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/nsp/mtpe.htm

  16. ” … Extreme wobbling, like that seen in some models in this study, would cause the poles to point directly at the sun from time to time, melting the glaciers. As a result, some planets would be able to maintain liquid water on the surface despite being located nearly twice as far from their stars as Earth is from the sun. …”

    Whaaaat I don’t understand Dr. Hosni???
    You mean water holds energy and when the energy is given up it moderates the surrounding environment?

    Thermodynamics is so hard. You mechanical engineers are so mean,,,

  17. “””””…..Bill Illis says:

    April 17, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Let’s take two examples.

    Earth with no axis tilt. The planet would be a permanent Snowball. …..”””””

    So this permanent iceball, would have no clouds, and almost no water vapor, even at the equator.

    So the sun would beat down on it for a full 12 hours each and every day. The equatorial albedo would not be any 35%, with no clouds, and the old snow or ice at the equator, wouldn’t have any 35% reflectance either. New snow, becomes quite optically conductive in a hurry due to snow melt.

    There’s not a lot of thermal conductivity between snow flakes , so they melt rather easily in ordinary sunshine even at high altitudes. And when they refreeze at night you get glassy ice, not snow.

    If Greenland summer ice can melt at that latitude and form ice puddles, I presume, there would be a lot of liquid water puddles at the equator, by the end of the first day of this un-tilted ice earth, so that water would conduct solar energy down to and into the ice ball; it wouldn’t be a snow ball, with ice /snow melting and refreezing each day, so it would be a nice transparent block of ice with water on it during the day, so it would be storing solar “heat” energy deep in the ice ball. Eventually, with enough liquid water on top of the equatorial ice, it would eventually get warm enough to not freeze overnight, and you would also start to get some evaporation during the day, which eventually would lead to some clouds.

    But it couldn’t remain an ice ball on the equator.

    The poles would never get as cold as the Antarctic highlands get now, because they would never have 24 hours of night for months.

    I think We could find it quite a nice place to live for lots of creatures.

  18. They say that when the moon recedes far enough from the Earth, Earth’s spin will become more unstable. They then add that this will be terrible for life. Yet these scientists say such wobbling will be good for life. How do you reconcile these two viewpoints?

  19. I have no problem with this research. The NASA motto “Space Is Our Future” should inform every agency expenditure.

  20. I miss the days when NASA actually focused on space and space exploration. Echoing “HR” maybe China will share after they are done militarizing space. I present “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Heinlein as one possible outcome of the current US retreat in all strategic areas.

  21. “new modeling by NASA”
    =============================================================================
    Generally speaking we need far less new modeling from NASA and far more true science from NASA.
    We have sent probes to Mars and spacecraft orbiting the moons of other planets we have landed men on the moon, but we have failed to find one microbe of extraterrestrial life; we have been actively listening for signs of intelligent life for decades and found none. So now we turn to “new models”.
    I guess the idea is if we take the theories of why there just ought to be, just has to be, really must be, life on other planets and throw them in the computer with James Hansen’s theories of why we are, must be, ought to be, destroying life on Earth out will pop an ET, saying “phone home” and wouldn’t that be cute.

  22. 1. Re: “… you can’t model climate here, what unimaginable hubris allows you to think you can model it elsewhere with absolutely no knowns… .” (Rhoda Klapp 1:06am)

    Example of just such hubris from article:

    The climate effects generated on these wobbling worlds could prevent them from turning into glacier-covered ice lockers,… .

    So, they KNOW there is even one molecule of H2O there?
    ****************************************************************

    2. Re: “… life would have no problem surviving the violent upheavals associated with the … planet’s rotation changing, but we’ll all die {from} a couple of degrees rise in surface temperature.”

    Good ol’ Envirostalinism (driven by the Enviroprofiteers), LOL —

    Propaganda: “Gotta shut down the manufacturing and power generation of free market economies (using CO2 “pollution” regulations)….

    …….. Because the earth could NEVER survive … .”

    {Note: just ad argumentum, for there is NO evidence that CO2 does ANYTHING TO significantly alter the climate zones of the Earth.}

    REALITY:

    Mt. St. Helens — Biological Recovery

  23. Cinaed Simson says:
    April 17, 2014 at 7:24 am

    How does the tilt of the Earth impact life at the bottom of the oceans?

    ==================================================================
    Thanks to all the hiding heat, now only tropical fish can live at the bottom of the oceans. Their preferred food is Finnish moths. (Other moths don’t have fins.)

  24. Wouldn’t “extreme wobbling” cause extreme ranges in temperature and also extreme weather? If such conditions are “surprisingly habitable,” why are we worried about a few degrees of climate change here on Earth?

  25. @ Gunga Din — LOL.

    Climastrologists: “And we know that because…….. we…. uh……. we SAW them… inourmodel.”
    #(:))

  26. should say “Life as we understand it.” There was a time when scientists didn’t know that some life forms at the bottom of the ocean survive on H2S.

  27. “… according to new modeling by NASA and university scientists affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.”.,,

    ‘Nuff said.

  28. “Odd Tilts Could Make More Worlds Habitable”
    ==================
    This, coming from a tilted world, the only habitable one known.
    Bias much ?
    Need to get outside the box.

  29. I don’t see anything wrong with the basic idea, but as there are no other planets that we know of that can support life, there’s no supportive factual data, to elaborate further on this modeled hypothesis, a habitable planet has to be found around another star which facilitates life and this planet must fit the same orbital criteria.

    Simply looking for a wobbling exoplanet and declaring it habitable based on this model is unacceptable!

  30. As we’re on the issue, even if primitive life was found within our solar system, Mars for example, it will never be proven conclusively that the life didn’t originate from earth!

    The other point is; Why haven’t we tried to seed Mars and spreed life to other planets?
    For all we know, this is the only planet in the entire universe that has life, we have been to other planets why have we not tried to introduce life to these planets?

    Such a waste!

  31. Just because a planet is habitable today, for life as we know it, does not mean that life could have evolved on it. This sort of orbit is probably not stable enough over the billions of years it takes.

  32. ferd berple says:
    April 17, 2014 at 4:58 am

    WRT:

    Mission to Plane Earth
    NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is dedicated to understanding the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. The MTPE Enterprise is pioneering the new discipline of Earth system science, with a near-term emphasis on global climate change. Space-based and in situ capabilities presently being used or developed yield new scientific understanding and practical benefits to the Nation.
    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/nsp/mtpe.htm

    You know, at first I wasn’t going to bite. I guess I’d forgotten all about NASA’s Kool-Aid drinking days. But sure enough, here is one of NASA’s

    Questions to Address

    MTPE addresses the fundamental question: How can we utilize the knowledge of the Sun, Earth, and other planetary bodies to develop predictive environmental, climatic, natural disaster, and natural resource models to help ensure sustainable development and improve the quality of life on Earth?

    Sounds like the public school systems. They used to have a mission back in the ’60’s… I forget what it was though…drool…

  33. Janice, volcanic eruptions have formed the earth as we know it. The most dangerous are those that appear dormant and then blow up, like St.Helens. Like in 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius was thought by Pliny the Elder it was just a mountain, that was very fertile. He died then, from what is termed noxious fumes, others who witnessed his death didn’t die though? Yet his nephew Pliny the younger gave an account of the eruption. But for years afterwards, the land was covered with ash and was not used by humans. And there are millions of people living there now.
    This wobbly planet, well maybe some subterranean life form is present we will never know. Depends if they have water, and if they have water then life could exist.

  34. Don’t you think this announcement from NASA is not scientifically based and speculative. I think what Stephen Hawking said on his video, ‘If ever, aliens from other worlds visit us, it won’t be pleasant’ has some truth in it. Gosh they are here already, Gore, Flannery, Mann and Jones just – LOL to mention just a few.

  35. This is the astronomers wishful thinking. But it is their job to seek out planets we have not discovered. I see no harm in it, but if is a dead planet, like Mars it won’t be known. One of the interesting things I’ve read, is that some of Jupiter’s moons, that are still experiencing volcanic eruptions is still forming and also another that has what looks like ice, could have life underneath in water that is warmish. But by life they can mean microbes and bacteria, that have been found in meteorites hitting earth.

  36. “””””…..from Sparks…..For all we know, this is the only planet in the entire universe that has life, we have been to other planets why have we not tried to introduce life to these planets? …..”””””

    You nailed it Sparks; from ALL we know this IS the only planet in the entire universe that has life.

    The sum total of our scientific knowledge of life on ANY other planet, does not yet amount to one single binary digit of data; and it is likely to remain that way for the forseeable future.

    Life on other planets at the moment, is just the output of computer models, and we know where that has gotten us in climate.

  37. george e. smith

    It would be an achievement… I would like to see an attempt to introduce life on another planet, lets try it.

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