Researchers have completed new simulations that look at how planets are believed to form. The new computer simulations show that the climate and solid surface of the Earth may be due in part to a massive star in the birth environment of the Sun. Simulations show that without the radioactive elements that star threw into the early solar system, the Earth could have been a hostile ocean planet covered in ice sheets.
The researchers say that the simulations have shown there are two “qualitatively different types of planetary systems” including those similar to our solar system where planets have little water. The other types are systems where there are primarily ocean worlds that are created because no massive star was around when the host system formed. The simulations help to solve some questions about planet formation but raise other questions. University of Michigan astronomer Michael Meyer says that it’s great to know that radioactive elements can make a wet system drier.
That also helps to explain why planets in the same solar system would share similar properties. However, radioactive heating might not explain everything says Meyer. He says that having Jupiter where it is might be important in keeping icy bodies out of the inner solar system.
Despite the abundance of water on our planet, in astronomical standards, the inner terrestrial planets are very dry. All planets, according to the researchers, have a core, mantle, and crust. If water content on a rocky planet is significantly higher than on Earth, the mantle is covered by a deep global ocean along with an impenetrable layer of ice on the ocean floor.
That prevents processes like the carbon cycle on Earth that help to stabilize the climate and create surface conditions that support life as we know it. The team says that when our proto-Sun was forming, a supernova happened in the cosmic neighborhood. That explosion threw radioactive elements, like aluminum-26, into our young solar system. This work and research will help future space telescopes hunt for exoplanets that might harbor life.