Bizarre planets made of a wide array of minerals could potentially be inhabitable, according to a new study conducted for the American Astronomical Society.
Astronomers found that the suitability of planets to develop life is closely related to the chemical composition of their stars by surveying 90 other solar systems with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Telescope in New Mexico. They found that small differences in chemistry could have important consequences for planets found orbiting stars with chemical compositions quite different from our Sun.
“[O]ur study combines new observations of stars with new models of planetary interiors,” Dr. Johanna Teske, an astronomer from the Carnegie Institute of Science, told Universe Today. “We want to better understand the diversity of small, rocky exoplanet composition and structure — how likely are they to have plate tectonics or magnetic fields?”
Researchers focused on the two stars, Kepler 102 and Kepler 407, which have five and two planets orbiting them respectively. They then ran computer models to determine what kind of minerals these planets likely consist of. The most habitable planet around Kepler 102 is probably rich in the mineral olivine, much like Earth, so scientists dubbed it “Olive.” The most habitable planet around Kepler 407 was rich in the mineral garnet, so scientists dubbed it “Janet.”
Since garnet is much more rigid than olivine, Janet would have less developed plate tectonics than Olive, meaning that processes like volcanic activity, atmospheric recycling, and mineral exchanges between the crust and mantle would be less common on Janet. All of these processes are believed to be essential to the development of life.
The study indicates that in addition to being rocky and having strong magnetic fields and viable atmospheres, planets around other stars also need the right mix of minerals in order to support Earth-like life.
If life did naturally develop on these planets, it would likely remain relatively primitive for quite some time.
The earliest potential evidence of life on Earth is 3.5 billion years old, but the first multi-cellular animals did not appear until about 600 million years ago and were not diversified until roughly 542 million years ago in the Cambrian “explosion.”
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