Science: What does a planet need to support life?

Science: What does a planet need to support life?

There are around 500 hunks of rock in the Milky Way thathave potential, you know…

For next time you’re looking up at the stars, thinking aboutall the planets hurtling around them and what might be out there living itsbest life far far away from us, here are some sciencey facts to back up yourwild imaginings. Or, you know, maybe it’ll be helpful on a test.

Obviously we only have one concrete example of a planet that can support life, so this list is based on what we know from life on Earth.

They’ve gotta be rocky

Let’s start with somewhere to stand, or at least sit if the gravity’s too strong. Unless we’re digging into some real sci-fi territory, the planet has to be made of rock rather than gas. So don’t be picturing a colony on something like Saturn, despite the undeniably cool rings and such. Life needs something to cling on to.

They have to be close to the sun… but not too close

Life needs some warmth, so the planet in question has to be close enough to that burning ball of fire it spins around. But not too close, otherwise it’s going to be nothing but heavy heat and radiation. The “habitable zone” is the name of the spot where we want it.

There’s gotta be something to drink

That habitable zone means the conditions are right for there to be liquid water, ideally on the surface. There might be some other scenarios where liquid water is present below the surface (like in caves? idk) but let’s stick with the first one.

They can’t be too small

If a planet is going to support life (in the sense that we know it), it’s gotta be thuge enough to have a molten core scenario going on. There are a few reasons this is important, but the main two are (a) it’s a source of geothermal energy and (b) it builds a magnetic field that protects its inhabitants from radiation.

They need some atmosphere

Obviously we need something to breathe, but an atmosphere isalso important to maintain warmth and as a protective barrier from the nastiesof space. Not, like, aliens. More like radiation and stuff again.


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