The role of Jupiter in driving Earth's orbital evolution: an update
Horner et al
In the coming decades, the discovery of the first truly Earth-like exoplanets is anticipated. The characterisation of those planets will play a vital role in determining which are chosen as targets for the search for life beyond the Solar system. One of the many variables that will be considered in that characterisation and selection process is the nature of the potential climatic variability of the exoEarths in question.
In our own Solar system, the Earth's long-term climate is driven by several factors - including the modifying influence of life on our atmosphere, and the temporal evolution of Solar luminosity. The gravitational influence of the other planets in our Solar system add an extra complication - driving the Milankovitch cycles that are thought to have caused the on-going series of glacial and interglacial periods that have dominated Earth's climate for the past few million years.
Here, we present the results of a large suite of dynamical simulations that investigate the influence of the giant planet Jupiter on the Earth's Milankovitch cycles. If Jupiter was located on a different orbit, we find that the long-term variability of Earth's orbit would be significantly different. Our results illustrate how small differences in the architecture of planetary systems can result in marked changes in the potential habitability of the planets therein, and are an important first step in developing a means to characterise the nature of climate variability on planets beyond our Solar system.