A team of scientists modeled thousands of planets to find out what happens with their hydrogen atmospheres. Their findings are truly intriguing.
When the space telescopes became capable enough to spot planets orbiting distant stars, researchers were surprised to find that many of them didn’t have atmospheres like our planet. They appeared to have some thick clouds of hydrogen.
Two scientists from the University of Chicago examined how those planets’ atmosphere developed. They also investigated the possibility of such worlds ever acquiring an atmosphere more like Earth’s. Here is what you need to know.
Could Other Planets Have a Similar Atmosphere Like Earth?
A new study about the fates of distant planetary atmospheres emerged recently, and the findings are really intriguing. By simulating thousands of modeled planets, scientists concluded that it would be very rare for a world that started with a hydrogen atmosphere to develop into one like Earth’s. Such planets often end up wasting their atmosphere completely.
“[…] studying them [the planets] helps us understand the overall processes that make or destroy atmospheres,” explained Megan Barnett, a graduate student and the second author of the study.
For instance, scientists found that many rocky worlds evolve with hydrogen atmospheres, but what occurs after that creation is still unknown. Do the planets keep the hydrogen atmosphere, or waste it completely?
Barnett and her colleague, Edwin Kite, the lead author and an expert on the history of Mars and the climates of other worlds, took this information and placed it into a program to run simulations with worlds of various sizes and types of atmospheres. Then, they create different situations and noticed what would happen to the atmospheres if the nearby star’s brightness swifts. Or if the star loses its light and the rock of the planet freezes.
Their results indicated that if a world has a hydrogen-rich atmosphere since the beginning, there are only a few combinations of conditions under which it could end up into an Earth-like atmosphere.
However, in some cases, a world a bit larger than ours managed to acquire and keep an Earth-like atmosphere. It succeeded in doing that by having many volcanic eruptions that pour out clouds of gas. The scientists said that if a planet starts with an initial Earth-like atmosphere, it’s more likely to remain like that.
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