Quantifying the Influence of Jupiter on the Earth's Orbital Cycles

Jonathan Horner, Pam Vervoort, Stephen Kane, Alma Ceja, Dave Waltham, James Gilmore, Sandra Kirtland Turner

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A wealth of Earth-sized exoplanets will be discovered in the coming years, proving a large pool of candidates from which the targets for the search for life beyond the Solar system will be chosen. The target selection process will require the leveraging of all available information in order to maximize the robustness of the target list and make the most productive use of follow-up resources. Here, we present the results of a suite of n-body simulations that demonstrate the degree to which the orbital architecture of the Solar system impacts the variability of Earth's orbital elements. By varying the orbit of Jupiter and keeping the initial orbits of the other planets constant, we demonstrate how subtle changes in Solar system architecture could alter the Earth's orbital evolution { a key factor in the Milankovitch cycles that alter the amount and distribution of solar insolation, thereby driving periodic climate change on our planet. The amplitudes and frequencies of Earth's modern orbital cycles fall in the middle of the range seen in our runs for all parameters considered { neither unusually
fast nor slow, nor large nor small. This nding runs counter to the `Rare Earth' hypothesis, which suggests that conditions on Earth are so unusual that life elsewhere is essentially impossible. Our results highlight how dynamical simulations of newly discovered exoplanetary systems could be used as an additional means to assess the potential targets of biosignature searches, and thereby help focus the search for life to the most promising targets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalThe Astronomical Journal
Early online date12 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Dec 2019

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