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Concept: Jupiter


Determining whether Earth-like planets are common or rare looms as a touchstone in the question of life in the universe. We searched for Earth-size planets that cross in front of their host stars by examining the brightness measurements of 42,000 stars from National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Kepler mission. We found 603 planets, including 10 that are Earth size ($$1-2\hbox{ \hspace{0.5em} }{R}_{\oplus }$$) and receive comparable levels of stellar energy to that of Earth ($$0.25-4\hbox{ \hspace{0.5em} }{F}_{\oplus }$$). We account for Kepler’s imperfect detectability of such planets by injecting synthetic planet-caused dimmings into the Kepler brightness measurements and recording the fraction detected. We find that 11 ± 4% of Sun-like stars harbor an Earth-size planet receiving between one and four times the stellar intensity as Earth. We also find that the occurrence of Earth-size planets is constant with increasing orbital period (P), within equal intervals of logP up to ∼200 d. Extrapolating, one finds $${5.7}_{-2.2}^{+1.7}$$% of Sun-like stars harbor an Earth-size planet with orbital periods of 200-400 d.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Planet, Jupiter, Universe, Terrestrial planet, Extrasolar planet, Orbital period


Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid approximately 9 km in diameter hit the hydrocarbon- and sulfur-rich sedimentary rocks in what is now Mexico. Recent studies have shown that this impact at the Yucatan Peninsula heated the hydrocarbon and sulfur in these rocks, forming stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols and causing extreme global cooling and drought. These events triggered a mass extinction, including dinosaurs, and led to the subsequent macroevolution of mammals. The amount of hydrocarbon and sulfur in rocks varies widely, depending on location, which suggests that cooling and extinction levels were dependent on impact site. Here we show that the probability of significant global cooling, mass extinction, and the subsequent appearance of mammals was quite low after an asteroid impact on the Earth’s surface. This significant event could have occurred if the asteroid hit the hydrocarbon-rich areas occupying approximately 13% of the Earth’s surface. The site of asteroid impact, therefore, changed the history of life on Earth.

Concepts: Evolution, Earth, Impact event, Jupiter, Metamorphic rock, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Asteroid


The detection of silica-rich dust particles, as an indication for ongoing hydrothermal activity, and the presence of water and organic molecules in the plume of Enceladus, have made Saturn’s icy moon a hot spot in the search for potential extraterrestrial life. Methanogenic archaea are among the organisms that could potentially thrive under the predicted conditions on Enceladus, considering that both molecular hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4) have been detected in the plume. Here we show that a methanogenic archaeon, Methanothermococcus okinawensis, can produce CH4under physicochemical conditions extrapolated for Enceladus. Up to 72% carbon dioxide to CH4conversion is reached at 50 bar in the presence of potential inhibitors. Furthermore, kinetic and thermodynamic computations of low-temperature serpentinization indicate that there may be sufficient H2gas production to serve as a substrate for CH4production on Enceladus. We conclude that some of the CH4detected in the plume of Enceladus might, in principle, be produced by methanogens.

Concepts: Oxygen, Atom, Carbon, Methane, Jupiter, Methanogen, Titan, Enceladus


Saturn’s moon Enceladus has an ice-covered ocean; a plume of material erupts from cracks in the ice. The plume contains chemical signatures of water-rock interaction between the ocean and a rocky core. We used the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer onboard the Cassini spacecraft to detect molecular hydrogen in the plume. By using the instrument’s open-source mode, background processes of hydrogen production in the instrument were minimized and quantified, enabling the identification of a statistically significant signal of hydrogen native to Enceladus. We find that the most plausible source of this hydrogen is ongoing hydrothermal reactions of rock containing reduced minerals and organic materials. The relatively high hydrogen abundance in the plume signals thermodynamic disequilibrium that favors the formation of methane from CO2 in Enceladus' ocean.

Concepts: Oxygen, Hydrogen, Carbon, Methane, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Iapetus


As lower-mass stars often host multiple rocky planets, gravitational interactions among planets can have significant effects on climate and habitability over long timescales. Here we explore a specific case, Kepler-62f (Borucki et al., 2013 ), a potentially habitable planet in a five-planet system with a K2V host star. N-body integrations reveal the stable range of initial eccentricities for Kepler-62f is 0.00 ≤ e ≤ 0.32, absent the effect of additional, undetected planets. We simulate the tidal evolution of Kepler-62f in this range and find that, for certain assumptions, the planet can be locked in a synchronous rotation state. Simulations using the 3-D Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD) Generic global climate model (GCM) indicate that the surface habitability of this planet is sensitive to orbital configuration. With 3 bar of CO2 in its atmosphere, we find that Kepler-62f would only be warm enough for surface liquid water at the upper limit of this eccentricity range, providing it has a high planetary obliquity (between 60° and 90°). A climate similar to that of modern-day Earth is possible for the entire range of stable eccentricities if atmospheric CO2 is increased to 5 bar levels. In a low-CO2 case (Earth-like levels), simulations with version 4 of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) GCM and LMD Generic GCM indicate that increases in planetary obliquity and orbital eccentricity coupled with an orbital configuration that places the summer solstice at or near pericenter permit regions of the planet with above-freezing surface temperatures. This may melt ice sheets formed during colder seasons. If Kepler-62f is synchronously rotating and has an ocean, CO2 levels above 3 bar would be required to distribute enough heat to the nightside of the planet to avoid atmospheric freeze-out and permit a large enough region of open water at the planet’s substellar point to remain stable. Overall, we find multiple plausible combinations of orbital and atmospheric properties that permit surface liquid water on Kepler-62f. Key Words: Extrasolar planets-Habitability-Planetary environments. Astrobiology 16, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Atmosphere, Jupiter, Global climate model


The provenance of water and organic compounds on the Earth and other terrestrial planets has been discussed for a long time without reaching a consensus. One of the best means to distinguish between different scenarios is by determining the D/H ratios in the reservoirs for comets and the Earth’s oceans. Here we report the direct in situ measurement of the D/H ratio in the Jupiter family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the ROSINA mass spectrometer aboard ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, which is found to be (5.3 ± 0.7) × 10(-4), that is, ~3 times the terrestrial value. Previous cometary measurements and our new finding suggest a wide range of D/H ratios in the water within Jupiter family objects and preclude the idea that this reservoir is solely composed of Earth ocean-like water.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Comet


None of the approximately 750,000 known asteroids and comets is thought to have originated outside our Solar System, but formation models suggest that orbital migration of the giant planets ejected a large fraction of the original planetesimals into interstellar space(1). The predicted interstellar number density(2) of icy interstellar objects of 2.4 × 10(-4) au(-3) suggested that these should have been detected by surveys, yet hitherto none had been seen. Many decades of asteroid and comet characterization have yielded formation models that explain the mass distribution, chemical abundances and planetary configuration of today’s Solar System, but until now there has been no way to tell if our Solar System is typical. Here we report observations and subsequent analysis of 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) that demonstrate the extrasolar trajectory of 'Oumuamua. Our observations reveal the object to be asteroidal, with no hint of cometary activity despite an approach within 0.25 au of the Sun. Spectroscopic measurements show that the object’s surface is consistent with comets or organic-rich asteroid surfaces found in our own Solar System. Light-curve observations indicate that the object has an extreme oblong shape, with a 10:1 axis ratio and a mean radius of 102±4 m, assuming an albedo of 0.04. Very few objects in our Solar System have such an extreme light curve. The presence of 'Oumuamua suggests that previous estimates of the density of interstellar objects were pessimistically low. Imminent upgrades to contemporary asteroid survey instruments and improved data processing techniques are likely to produce more interstellar objects in the upcoming years.

Concepts: Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mercury, Jupiter, Uranus, Asteroid, Comet


The amount of ultraviolet irradiation and ablation experienced by a planet depends strongly on the temperature of its host star. Of the thousands of extrasolar planets now known, only six have been found that transit hot, A-type stars (with temperatures of 7,300-10,000 kelvin), and no planets are known to transit the even hotter B-type stars. For example, WASP-33 is an A-type star with a temperature of about 7,430 kelvin, which hosts the hottest known transiting planet, WASP-33b (ref. 1); the planet is itself as hot as a red dwarf star of type M (ref. 2). WASP-33b displays a large heat differential between its dayside and nightside, and is highly inflated-traits that have been linked to high insolation. However, even at the temperature of its dayside, its atmosphere probably resembles the molecule-dominated atmospheres of other planets and, given the level of ultraviolet irradiation it experiences, its atmosphere is unlikely to be substantially ablated over the lifetime of its star. Here we report observations of the bright star HD 195689 (also known as KELT-9), which reveal a close-in (orbital period of about 1.48 days) transiting giant planet, KELT-9b. At approximately 10,170 kelvin, the host star is at the dividing line between stars of type A and B, and we measure the dayside temperature of KELT-9b to be about 4,600 kelvin. This is as hot as stars of stellar type K4 (ref. 5). The molecules in K stars are entirely dissociated, and so the primary sources of opacity in the dayside atmosphere of KELT-9b are probably atomic metals. Furthermore, KELT-9b receives 700 times more extreme-ultraviolet radiation (that is, with wavelengths shorter than 91.2 nanometres) than WASP-33b, leading to a predicted range of mass-loss rates that could leave the planet largely stripped of its envelope during the main-sequence lifetime of the host star.

Concepts: Sun, Planet, White dwarf, Star, Jupiter, Gas giant, Extrasolar planet, Brown dwarf


There is an increasing interest in the icy moons of the Solar System due to their potential habitability and as targets for future exploratory missions, which include astrobiological goals. Several studies have reported new results describing the details of these moons' geological settings; however, there is still a lack of information regarding the deep subsurface environment of the moons. The purpose of this article is to evaluate the microbial habitability of Europa constrained by terrestrial analogue environments and sustained by radioactive energy provided by natural unstable isotopes. The geological scenarios are based on known deep environments on Earth, and the bacterial ecosystem is based on a sulfate-reducing bacterial ecosystem found 2.8 km below the surface in a basin in South Africa. The results show the possibility of maintaining the modeled ecosystem based on the proposed scenarios and provides directions for future models and exploration missions for a more complete evaluation of the habitability of Europa and of icy moons in general.

Concepts: Energy, Earth, Natural environment, Solar System, Planet, Dwarf planet, Jupiter, Europa


The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundaries framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries-climate change and biosphere integrity-have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth System into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.

Concepts: Human, Earth, Sun, Lithosphere, Science, Planet, Jupiter, Terrestrial planet