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Can friction help Earth-sized exoplanets travelling dangerous orbits?


Both the thick ice shell (left) and the partially molten interior (right) can generating internal friction and heat/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

From ScienceDaily:

As anybody who has started a campfire by rubbing sticks knows, friction generates heat. Now, computer modeling by NASA scientists shows that friction could be the key to survival for some distant Earth-sized planets traveling in dangerous orbits.

The findings are consistent with observations that Earth-sized planets appear to be very common in other star systems. Although heat can be a destructive force for some planets, the right amount of friction, and therefore heat, can be helpful and perhaps create conditions for habitability.

“We found some unexpected good news for planets in vulnerable orbits,” said Wade Henning, a University of Maryland scientist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new study. “It turns out these planets will often experience just enough friction to move them out of harm’s way and into safer, more-circular orbits more quickly than previously predicted.”

If only life were a computer model, those planets would be overpopulated already.

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