New stellar models predict that gas giant planets can act as ‘agents of chaos’ in their solar systems by wreaking havoc on the habitable zone orbits of Earthlike planets that may harbor alien lifeforms.
Our solar system’s gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, help protect the inner rocky planets, including Earth, from potentially catastrophic meteor and cometary collisions. However, this new research seems to show that our little corner of the cosmos is the exception and that, in many cases, massive gas giants likely have the opposite effect on potentially habitable systems.
Agents of Chaos Can Blast Habitable Zone Planets into Inhospitable Orbits
To determine if their theory was correct, the University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers looked at actual exoplanet systems that contained gas giants. One candidate was a star system known as HD 141399. Approximately 121 light years away, which is practically next door in cosmic terms, this system contains four gas giants that orbit far from their host star. This is key, said researchers, as Jupiter and Saturn also orbit far from our sun, especially compared to Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
Next, the researchers gathered known data about this particular system and plugged it into computer simulations designed to replicate the real-world conditions of planetary orbits. As they explain in the published results, these four gas giants were more likely than not to act as so-called “agents of chaos” by altering the orbits of any rocky planets fortunate enough to reside in the star’s habitable zone, where life-sustaining liquid water can exist on its surface.
“It’s as if they have four Jupiters acting like wrecking balls, throwing everything out of whack,” said Stephen Kane, UC Riverside astrophysicist and author of the journal paper.
Notably, there were still some select simulations where the habitable zone rocky planets maintained a life-friendly orbit. But when asked if…