Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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“More habitable than Earth” is a high bar

Here’s a headline: These 24 planets may be more ‘habitable’ than Earth, astronomers say

Let’s take a look at the actual post …

Researchers identified these planets based on a list of specific criteria. Among them, the planets’ presence in the host star’s “goldilocks zone,” or the habitable orbit around a star where liquid water can exist thanks to the right temperature. Not only does the right surface temperature matter for the existence of water, but a surface temperature about 41 degrees warmer than that of Earth would be more suitable for life, thanks to the combination of higher temperatures and the presence of moisture.

Also, when it comes to planets, bigger is better. A planet that’s even 10% larger than Earth means it has more habitable land. Plus, one that has even 1.5 times our planet’s mass means it can keep its interior heating longer through radioactive decay, and would also have even stronger gravity to sustain an atmosphere (and hold down moisture) for a longer period of time.

FORTY-ONE DEGREES WARMER? Wow, that does not instantly strike me as “more habitable.” Even if you’re talking F instead of C, which I assume they are, that would have made the dawn temperature today, right here where I am, 93F. It would make the temperature of an ordinary August day, oh, say, about 132F. Who exactly defines that as “more habitable?”

You know, that would also put summer temperatures in ALASKA at 96F to 120F. Wow! What an improvement.

Okay, obviously if the entire biosphere evolved in this super-warm environment, those organisms would all find these conditions perfectly fine. But let’s say that one of these worlds is beautiful and filled with complex life and I would love to visit and observe and take notes — but the world also has 1.5x Earth gravity and is 41F warmer, I would definitely require a nice, air-conditioned habitat to which I could retreat to recover from the “more habitable” conditions.

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5 Comments “More habitable than Earth” is a high bar

  1. Mike S.

    I look forward to the rebranding of climate change as “making Earth extra habitable”.

    41 degrees of warming is an ambitious goal. But with the right tax incentives and educational campaign I think we can pull it off. Not only are there many things we haven’t yet set on fire, but we know *lots* of chemicals with more heat retention than CO2 and we’ve barely started to even look seriously!

  2. Hanneke

    That choice of the words “more habitable” for worlds that are hotter and heavier is really unhappy. Calling them more likely to develop and sustain alien life might be biologically and/or chemically true (the latter seems likely, but I wonder about the first), but more habitable for Earth humans to live on is certainly not true.

    I can’t immediately find the article, but I’ve read about research into how the extremes of heatwaves caused by our present global warming trends (i.e. much less than the 41°F mentioned above) can cause entire regions to become inimical to life (central Australia becoming unliveable even for its adapted wildlife was the trigger for the article I read, but it also mentioned the Arabian peninsula, and some of the tropical regions), as the brains of both humans and animals cannot function if the enzymes our bodies need become irreversibly denatured when our body temperatures rise too much. Our brain proteins start to ‘cook like an egg’ is a phrase that stuck in my mind…

    Also, the damage already starts to happen when core body temperature rises above 43°C, which in the kind of heavy, wet, hot atmosphere described for these so-called “more habitable” planets would be quite likely, as the wet-bulb temperature determines how effectively an organism can cool its interior by losing heat (even to a hotter atmosphere, as long as it’s dry).
    Alien life might develop alternate ways of evolving intelligence, adapted to that heat, but it would be very hard for Earth-derived creatures to adapt to, except for a few organisms like the colourful algae that thrive in hot springs.

  3. Pete Mack

    I have read a number of articles that suggest that large warm-blooded animals thrive best in relatively cool periods, let alone during Ice Ages. (The r-cubed:r-squared law suggests this is true.) So 15F warmer might be good for dinosaurs and rodents, but it wouldn’t be good for humans. Or for cattle, horses, elephants, and even sheep.

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