Neighboring Alien Planets Could Help Each Other Sustain Life

Monday, 07 December 2015 - 11:17AM
Astrobiology
Alien Life
Monday, 07 December 2015 - 11:17AM
Neighboring Alien Planets Could Help Each Other Sustain Life
Astronomers recently discovered "neighbor" planets around the star Kepler-36, which are so close together, inhabitants living on either planet would experience a "planetrise." Researchers now believe that as a result of this close proximity, planet systems like Kepler-36's may be able to help each other sustain alien life, creating what they're now calling "multihabitable systems."

The two planets around Kepler-36, which is located 1,200 lightyears from Earth in the Cygnus constellation, are much closer together than most of the exoplanet systems we've discovered. If their orbit were blown up proportionally to be as large as Earth's solar system, they would only be one-tenth of an AU apart, which is about five times closer than Mars is to Earth. 

For the new study, a team of researchers ran a series of simulations that modeled conditions on neighboring planets, and they found that the climate conditions would likely be stable enough to support life, were the planets in their star's "Goldilocks zone." Earth's climate is dependent on its obliquity, or tilt on its axis relative to the orbit around the Sun, which can be impacted greatly by changes in gravitational pull. But according to the results of the study, the gravitational pull of each planet wouldn't likely affect the other's obliquity. 

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"The climate isn't likely to be any worse in multihabitable systems, and the possibility of two planets sharing the biological burden could help the system traverse the inevitable rough times," study lead author Jason Steffen at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said in a statement.
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The researchers also found that these planets would be capable of seeding each other with life, if life existed on either planet. While there's an outside chance this could have occurred on Earth as well, the great distance between Earth and the rest of the planets in the solar system make it far more unlikely that organisms on an asteroid could survive the journey. 

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"The most interesting possibility that these systems enable is a biological family tree that is shared among the two planets," Steffen told Space.com.
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If this did occur, we could imagine a planetary system that housed multiple civilizations that were aware of each other and communicated with each other, according to Steffen:

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"where life - intelligent life in particular - could exist in two places at the same time and in the same system," Steffen said. "You can imagine that if civilizations did arise on both planets, they could communicate with each other for hundreds of years before they ever met face-to-face. It's certainly food for thought."
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However, for now it is just "food for thought," an interesting thought experiment that has not come to fruition, as far as we know:

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"We have not seen a real system with aliens that are communicating with each other," Steffen clarified.
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