Seeing as we’re not doing so well with our planetary preservation program here on Earth, it might be prudent to consider the possibility of shopping around the universe for a new home at some point in the not-too-distant future. But how do we know which heavenly bodies are ripe for the human ruination treatment? Well, an enterprising team of scientists is working on an equation, combining all the key elements and variables that support life, that will ideally give them a relatively quick way to rank planets according to their habitability potential. —KA
MSNBC’s “Cosmic Log”:
“To be honest, it’s really difficult to find a way forward here,” said Axel Hagermann, a planetary scientist at The Open University in Britain who is raising the habitability issue at this week’s European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany.
Hagermann and a university colleague of his, Charles Cockell, are aiming to develop a single indicator that combines all the factors thought to make life as we know it possible. “What we’re looking at is, ‘If you’ve got this, and that, and the other, you’ve got life. Otherwise, you can’t have life,’” Hagermann told me.
Based on their study of earthly examples, scientists generally list three factors: the presence of liquid water, chemical compounds that can be combined in organic reactions, and an energy source to fuel those reactions. But is it possible to quantify the factors behind habitability to such an extent that you can give Mars a habitability index of 0.5, the ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn a 0.2, or the faraway planet called CoRoT-7b a 0.001?
This artist’s rendering shows the closest known planetary system to our own, only about 10 light-years away. Its sun is the star Epsilon Eridani.