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back to article Greenhouse gasses may boost chances of exoplanetary life

Those pesky greenhouse gasses that are threatening to wreak havoc here on Earth may make other planets scattered throughout the universe more conducive to life, according to a paper published in the journal Science. "It's really all about the greenhouse gases," the paper's author Sara Seager told Space.com. "The greenhouse gases …

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Anonymous Coward

Are they dealing with AGW too.

I wonder what life forms are present. I bet some are worried about AGW, so they'll try and get rid of the methane and CO2 and so kill themselves off at the next cooling cycle.

If we had interstellar space travel, we could ship them some of our AGW gurus and exterminate them faster!

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Headmaster

Re: Are they dealing with AGW too.

I bet none of them are worried about anthropogenic global warming, as none of them are humans.

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Silver badge

Re: Are they dealing with AGW too.

"I bet none of them are worried about anthropogenic global warming, as none of them are humans."

How do you know?

Life could have been transplanted by a more advanced species at some point, a la Stargate.

For that matter, there is a tiny, infinitesimal chance that humans could have evolved on another world. (Or God could have created humans on another planet, if you're that way inclined.) The chances are tiny, but the universe is a big place.

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Thumb Up

Re: Are they dealing with AGW too.

Don't forget convergent evolution. The biggest visual difference between some icthyosaurs and beaked dolphins is the orientation of the tale flukes.

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Oops!

"That's too narrow a view, argues Seager. "If there is one important lesson from exoplanets, it is that anything is possible within the laws of physics and chemistry," she writes." I'd have more confidence if she had written, "If there is one important lesson from exoplanets, it is that anything is possible within the laws of physics and chemistry is possible".

And what about that threat of havoc: an almost 10% rise in CO2 since 1996 and zero warming? How empty is that threat?

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Re: Oops!

You'd have more confidence if she'd written gibberish, instead of a coherent sentence?

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Paris Hilton

Re: Oops!

Could you try again please?

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Re: Oops!

I was hoping that the commenter meant:

Anything is possible in the laws of physics, and some of those things lead to 'interesting' (i.e. leading to life) types of chemistry being possible.

But I may be being too generous... :)

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In as many cases

Where green house gasses might possible push environments into the hospital zone they're are at least as many where they push them out of it, cue venus.

It means that as the actual possible variations we can imagine that might produce habitat planets increase the amount of way this could go horribly wrong also increases, and at a much greater rate.

Really .... Until life in demonstrated to be likely, indeed until its likelihood is anything more than one versus every single thing we have ever looked at, we must assume it is extremely rare, ..l maybe then we'll treat it with a little more care.

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Coat

Re: In as many cases

Is this just a claim, or do you have any reasoning or research behind this?

I can see that it may be at least as many ways to push it out, but I can not see that it has to be that way. You bring up Venus which is a planet radical different from Earth. First of all it has extreme length days, second the solar radiation is double of that of Earth, third it has no plate tectonic and fourth it has no internally generated magnetic field. Yes, we call it our sister planet, mainly because we are about the same size, we have an atmosphere and neither is orbiting Jupiter, but that is about it.

On the other hand we can easily argue that a planet too far on the inside of the goldilocks zone will have their atmosphere blown away regardless. Then we have a narrow band where the heat from the star is sufficient on it's own (possibly Venus as you point out), after that you have an extremely broad band of planets that would be too cold without a greenhouse effect (Earth and beyond). So you then end up a very small percentage where greenhouse gases could make an otherwise habitable planet inhabitable, then we have a much larger percentage of inhabitable planets that could be knocked into habitable range, and we have the planets that could not be habitable no matter what.

It is like this. You have a lottery, with a 1:100 chance of winning. Then you hand out a second ticket with a 1:10 chance of winning. The only problem is if you win on both your winning is canceled. Still, the second ticket would improve your chance of winning. The only way the second ticket would lower your winning chances is if the first lottery is more than 1:2. And clearly, not half the planets are habitable.

It is a little more complicated than this of course. For instance, the further away from being habitable the less chance there is of course to make them so with greenhouse gases. But unless you can put some actual reasoning or research behind your claim, I fail to see how you can be so sure.

Then we have that you failed to see the main point. That regardless of all of this, the conclusion still stands. That not finding a right sized planet in the goldilocks zone is not enough to conclude there can be no life in the system.

At last I would like to point out that we havn't actually looked at that many places yet. We have basically a good idea that quite a few of the objects orbiting the same star as us are so inhospitable that they are have no chance of having life. The ones that could maybe support life we have not been able to examine closely enough to actually confirm that they don't. Outside the solar system we have no way to check anything.

My hat and coat, please, I'll go and check.

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Re: In as many cases

"Where green house gasses might possible push environments into the hospital zone they're are at least as many where they push them out of it, cue venus."

Based on what? Your extensive statistical analysis of exoplanets?

We can barely detect that exoplanets exist, and can only make highly speculated guesses as to their atmospheric makeup, mainly based on their gravity.

There is no possible way you can back up those statements, unlike the SCIENTISTS who actually spend their lives studying the evidence we do have. There's enough completely uninformed and inaccurate opinions on the net already

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Re: In as many cases

No, ... Its basic logic.

Unless you believe the universe aplies selective pressure towards the formation of habital worlds then any factor that can influence a habitat towards being life capable can also work against it being so.

Just take the three habital zone planets we know of, very crudely you could say Mars to little greenhouse, Venus too much, Earth just right. So that's one out of three.

Now if you believe the universe magically perfers habital planets then all factors will tend towards them forming, if on the other hand you think the universe is indifferent (or perhaps you just feel uncomfortable assigning motivations to existance) then there is no preference towards hospital zones. While its possible there are some selective forces that work to maintain the greenhouse effect within a certain range once a biosphere has formed this is not the questions being poised here rather the likely hood of it initial forming.

The hospital zone itself is a narrow band out of a much larger field of possibilities, basically there are far more ways it can go wrong than right. We define hospital zones basically as places where the natural formation of liquid water is possible, we have examples that greenhouse effects can easily form feed back loops that quickly past that point, again see Venus, so its entirely reasonable to then conclude that for as many possible worlds that are pushed into the hospital zones by greenhouse effects there are statistically as likely to be just a many where is pushes them out of it.

There .. Logic. ... Don't be scared

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Re: In as many cases

My point was that yes, greenhouse effect is one of many factors that could be involved in allowing a planet to fall into the hospital zone, but the idea that this is a toggle switch between hospital and non that bothers me.

Look, if you have a planet outside of the hospital zone its not simple enough to say give it a greenhouse effect and it will be in it, you have to give it exactly the right greenhouse effect, 20degrees either way and it no use.

I am in no way denying that there are likely planets out there in the hospital zone due to the exact right level of greenhouse effect, in fact the only inhabited planet we know of, ours, is dependent on the greenhouse effect especially from very early on when the sun was much cooler.

What I am saying, and I don't know why people are so up in arms about this, is that there are more ways for the greenhouse effect to produce effects outside the narrow temperature range that allows for liquid water as there are ways for it to do so.

I know of no selective pressure to predisposes planets to develop the exactly precisely tuned greenhouse effect to allow life to form. ... So i have to assume its random chance. Greenhouse gas is definitely a possible factor, as are countless other things, but it has as many negative as positive effects. Its is not predisposed towards making a planet hospital.

In your lottery example i would say this is more like rather than issuing you a second ticket instead we add 3 to each of your 6 numbers, occasionally this might make a losing ticket win, occasionally this might make a winning ticket lose, most of the time no effect, net sum zero.

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Re: In as many cases

I was worried that I might have been too harsh, but that worry is no more.

First, you postulate that there is no mechanisms that favors certain temperature ranges. You base this on that any such mechanics would be magical. Clearly then such mechanisms do not exists. As evidences go, I find that one stunningly beautiful, totally worthless as evidence of course. It even fails at reasoning, but man, how beautiful.

Second, assuming that is the situation, which I have not researched in any way. Neither by reading other peoples research or done my own. So thus, it is in the blue, and we have to at least look into the possibility of that being the case. And indeed, it is not unlikely. Then your entire argument, as I have already stated and you have not responded to, hinges on half of the planets being habitable in the first place, before you factor in the greenhouse effect. Again see my example above.

Third, it still does not matter since the core is that research only states that no planet in the goldilocks zone does not mean that there isn't a planet in the system with no liquid water on the surface.

So, we are indeed scared if the nonsense you are coming with passes as logic anywhere.

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Re: In as many cases

But now you simply start to argue against things never actually said, unless I am mistaken here. Where does it say that:

"...if you have a planet outside of the hospital zone its not simple enough to say give it a greenhouse effect and it will be in it"

Who has said anything against this?

"...is that there are more ways for the greenhouse effect to produce effects outside the narrow temperature range that allows for liquid water as there are ways for it to do so."

And then we are back at the start where you basically say that greenhouse effect would cause more habitable planets to become inhabitable, and now you argue that the outcome would be net sum zero. And of course we have this:

"I know of no selective pressure to predisposes planets to develop the exactly precisely tuned greenhouse effect to allow life to form. ... So i have to assume its random chance. Greenhouse gas is definitely a possible factor, as are countless other things, but it has as many negative as positive effects. Its is not predisposed towards making a planet hospital." Which raises the question we are asking you. Why do you have to assume that it is so just because you haven't heard of it?

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Meh

Re: In as many cases

We seem to be writing replies at the same time, and thus it is a little mixed. You did answer my post while I responded to your first response. I could withdraw one and rewrite, but meh. Sorry for the mess.

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Re: In as many cases

Sorry ... You saying there is a prefrence in the universe towards producing hospital zones?

.. Second paragraph, what ? Sorry .. But it is very confusing. When did i ever state half of the planets are habitable?

As far as liquid water being on planets outside of the goldilock zone that been long assumed a possibily, we may have a moon orbiting a gas giant in our own solar system full of it. What i said is that while the greenhouse effect is a factor it does not preferentially select for hospitality. While it may push some habitats into the hospital zone it pushes other out.

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Re: In as many cases

Why do you have to assume that it is so just because you haven't heard of it?

Sorry ... But to be clear, ... You are saying that it is not random chance when the conditions that allow life to arise occur and that there are selective pressures that predisposes the universe to produce habitable planets ?

Ok ... That is a view, I don't share it.

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Pint

Re: In as many cases

No, I am saying that I am not an astrophysicist and thus I have no way to tell either way except to listen to actual astrophysicists and astronomers. It can be so, it can not be so, and I can make up arguments for most views, and even if I couldn't, it wouldn't have any impact on reality. So when somebody that is an astronomer and a professor at MIT has researched something, and that research is presented in an online newspaper, I would hesitate a little bit more to claim that for her to be right the universe has to be supported by magic. So I was interested in knowing what you have or who you are to back up that claim. Then I got annoyed and this got out of hand. So, meh, not feeding anymore, have a beer instead.

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Re: In as many cases

"any factor that can influence a habitat towards being life capable can also work against it being so."

You said "at least as many" - that implies actual knowledge of the distribution of atmospheres on the thousands of billions of planets across the observable universe - which is so ridiculous its laughable.

"The hospital zone itself is a narrow band out of a much larger field of possibilities, basically there are far more ways it can go wrong than right."

And all the scientists are saying is that this is another possible way it can go right for the 'liquid water' worlds we view as potentially habitable.

They, unlike you, are not making claims about the actual distribution of planets because they know that NO ONE knows that - not even uninformed and unqualified commenters on internet websites such as your good self.

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Re: In as many cases

"My point was that yes, greenhouse effect is one of many factors that could be involved in allowing a planet to fall into the hospital zone, but the idea that this is a toggle switch between hospital and non that bothers me.

Look, if you have a planet outside of the hospital zone

Its is not predisposed towards making a planet hospital."

Do tell - what is a hospital zone, and how does a planet fall into one? *slaps forehead*

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Re: In as many cases

Ok ... So there seems to be alot objection to what i said, and to be honest I'm having a hard time understanding the specifics of those objections, so instead let me try again to clarify what i meant.

What i said was unless there is a mechanism within the process of greenhouse gasses that predisposes it to reach some stable equilibrium in the narrow bandwidth of conditions that allow liquid water to form in habitats ( be those habitats planets, moons, wandering brown dwarfs, or other) then it doesn't actual increase the likelihood of such conditions accruing.

While its arguable the greenhouse effect was critcal to our own planets ability to hold liquid water we also know it can lead to conditions that are directly contrary to the existance of liquid water, most theories have Venus possiblely having large bodies of liquid water before its run away green house effect vaporized them. There is no evidence or suggested mechanism that would explain it preferring one result over another.

Its one factor among many that allows the possibility of conditions allowing liquid water to form outside a narrow solar energy window, but speculation on the range of possible habitats has extended far beyond the orbital goldilock range for at least as long as Sagan's work in the late sixties.

There is a possible mechanism that predisposes atomspheres towards a equilibrium allowing for liquid water, the biosphere itself acording to the gaia hypothesis, but that doesn't infullance the likley hood of hospital zones for life to form in the first place, unless there is always life alla panspermia but that's a separate hypothesis.

My point is that there is nothing inheirant in the greenhouse process that increases the liklehood that it will result in a hospital place.

I do not see why that is so controversial.

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Re: We define hospital zones

... as places where only ambulances are allowed to park?

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Happy

Re: In as many cases

"We define hospital zones basically as places where the natural formation of liquid water is possible,"

Well, I'm currently in hospital(*), tucked up in bed, and do have a large jar of water on the table beside me. I guess it originally formed naturally, though I think it came from a tap"

Nurse!

* Yes, I'm allowed to use 3G here.

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Thumb Up

Widens the viable range and suggests people keep an open mind.

Both sound admirable scientific things to do to me.

Thumbs up. for giving people something more to think about when they view the idea of a "goldilock zone".

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Bronze badge

Re: "goldilock zone"

"Goldilocks zone"

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Discovering fire

"..and thus support life – at least until, as one wag commenting on the Space.com article pointed out, that life evolved long enough to discover fire."

If inhabitants of a methane/hydrogen atmosphere did discover fire, they would burn oxygen as fuel.

No. I did not think of that myself.. I pretty sure it was from Heinline or Clark.

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I strongly believe life can be supported in a hospital zone. I have confirmed this by driving by my local hospital and observed life within this zone.

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Joke

So it was a hospitable hospital ?

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Devil

I think the word is "Hospitable" ?

Not to be pedantic but the word that madestjohn is trying to say is "hospitable" or perhaps a better word would be "inhabitable". Unfortunately the english language is full of difficult words that don't translate well.

Next, his statement about liquid water is on the mark. Almost every chemical reaction for the building blocks of life require H2O to ocurr.

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Re: I think the word is "Hospitable" ?

Yes ... I think we got that, ... I could blame premptive autocorrect but lets be honest, it the brain.

Personally, I was far more enjoying everyone riffing on the hospital motif ... Please let us continue

.. Nurse!

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