If Jupiter hadn’t changed its orbit around the Sun, Venus might not have been a stuffy and waterless world today, according to a new study from the University of California, Riverside. Scientists publish their findings in The Planetary Science Journal.
Jupiter’s mass is two and a half times the mass of all other planets in our solar system combined. Its gigantic scale could easily affect the orbits of other planets and their habitability.
At the beginning of the formation of Jupiter as a planet, it moved closer to the Sun, then moving away from it due to the interaction of the protoplanetary disk, and other giant planets of the outer solar system. This movement, in turn, influenced Venus.
Observations of other planetary systems have shown that such migrations of giant planets soon after formation may be relatively common.
Scientists believe that planets lacking liquid water are not capable of supporting life as we know it. While Venus may have lost some water early in its formation for other reasons and would probably have continued to do so anyway, UCR astrobiologist Stephen Kane has stated that it was Jupiter’s motion that likely pushed Venus on its way to its current inhospitable state.
“One of the interesting things about Venus today is that its orbit is almost perfectly circular,” explains Kane, who led the study. “In this project, I wanted to find out if it always had such a circular orbit, and if not, what are the consequences of this?”
To answer these questions, Kane created a model that mimics the solar system, calculating the location of all the planets at any given time and how they pull each other’s orbits in different directions.
The scientist found that as Jupiter migrated and was influenced by Venus’s orbit, the planet underwent catastrophic climate changes, heating up and then cooling down and losing water in the atmosphere.
Ultimately, Kane says, it’s important to understand what happened to Venus, a planet that was once probably habitable and now has a surface temperature of up to 427 degrees Celsius.
“I focus on the differences between Venus and Earth and what went wrong with Venus so that we can understand how livable the Earth is and what we can do to take better care of this planet,” the scientist concludes.