Although 500 years have passed since Nicolaus Copernicus upset beliefs about celestial mechanics; although more than 150 years have passed since Darwin put us in our place (evolutionarily speaking) and about 100 years since Einstein explained to us that not even matter and time were what we thought they were and although 90 years ago Lemaître glimpsed the idea of the Big Bang deep in an astronomical equation, almost nothing has changed. Yes, we know a lot about the universe, but we still believe that we are in the center of it. This, although it may not seem like it, has implications for current science and technology.
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For example, for decades we thought that the Earth was the best place to live. We thought we were a miracle, that if one factor among the billions that support life on our planet were to change, everything would collapse like a house of cards. However, today a group of researchers from the University of California Riverside discovered that this is not the case. A “small change” would be enough to make life on Earth much better.
How Jupiter can affect Earth
As you can see, we use quotes to talk about this “small change”. And the reason is that – although on a cosmological scale it is an almost insignificant change – we are talking about Jupiter changing its orbit.
To fully understand how the interactions of the planets work in the context of the solar system, Pam Vervoort and her team have developed very detailed models, so that they can modify small details and observe the consequences. And what happened, contrary to what everyone thought, is that if the gas giant changed its orbit a little bit and pushed ours, it would not worsen the habitability of the Earth: it would improve it.
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In other words, if Earth’s orbit were shifted a bit more by Jupiter’s influx, many parts of the planet’s surface that are now below freezing would warm, it would increase in temperature and become habitable. Therefore, Siberia could become the Caribbean (or something like that).
And what is all this for?
This is perhaps the most interesting question: why are there people dedicated to seeing what would happen if the orbit of a huge planet were to change a little? What are the people at the University of California doing to find ways to warm the Earth’s surface? The answer is : “for almost nothing“. The Riverside scientists are simply trying to improve our understanding and, more importantly, trying to understand the influence that the entire planetary system has on a planet’s ability to support interesting biology. In other words, this study it won’t solve our lives, but it can help us find some.
This article was written in collaboration with our colleagues at Xataka.