How Habitable Zones for Alien Planets and Stars Work (Infographic)
By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist |
Astronomers have re-examined the possibilities for "habitable zones," or "Goldilocks zones," surrounding alien stars. Researchers found that habitable planets can exist in orbits closer to their parent stars than previously believed, because the solar energy required to start a runaway greenhouse effect is higher than was thought.
Too close to a star, an otherwise pleasant planet develops a runaway greenhouse effect, a feedback loop that leads to extremely high surface temperatures. The oceans boil, becoming thick clouds of vapor in the atmosphere. The thick atmosphere traps solar heat on the planet’s surface. [9 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]
The greenhouse effect traps infrared rays (heat) from the sun in the atmosphere, raising surface temperatures. Despite having a similar size to Earth, the planet Venus is entirely uninhabitable due to its runaway greenhouse effect.
Over time, the sun’s brightness increases, pushing back the inner boundary of the habitable zone. Currently, the inner boundary is 95 percent of the distance from the sun to the Earth. In a billion years, the Earth may develop a runaway greenhouse effect like Venus'.
Karl's association with SPACE.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. Starting in 2010, Karl has been TechMediaNetwork's infographics specialist across all editorial properties. Before joining SPACE.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web. He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Karl on Google+.