KEY POINTS

  • Researchers identified another factor that could determine an exoplanet's habitability
  • Researchers believe airborne dust can regulate the climate of an exoplanet
  • The presence of dust could indicate an exoplanet's habitability

A study identified a new factor that could determine the habitability of an exoplanet. According to a team of researchers, a planet’s airborne dust could indicate if it has the potential to host alien life.  

The new study was carried out by researchers from the University of Exeter in England. Their findings were presented in a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

According to the researchers, dust, which is mainly made from carbon-silicate material, can regulate the temperature of planets depending on their environmental conditions. Through models made by the researchers, they learned how dust in the air could make a planet warmer or cooler.

The researchers noted that depending on which portion of the planet is facing its host star, the airborne dust in that region will have a cooling effect. On the other hand, the part of the planet facing away from the star will have warmer conditions due to the dust.

This indicates that the airborne dust regulates the temperature within planets depending on their conditions. The researchers believe that the same concept can also be observed in planets that are located far or near their host stars.

For instance, planets that orbit their host star from far distances typically have cold temperatures. The presence of airborne dust in these planets could regulate the climate by providing warmer conditions.

By regulating the climate within the planets, the researchers believe that the presence of airborne dust can also affect the habitability of an exoplanet. Aside from providing ideal temperatures for alien life to flourish in, the dust can also keep a planet warm enough to support liquid water.

“On Earth and Mars, dust storms have both cooling and warming effects on the surface, with the cooling effect typically winning out,” Ian Boutle, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “But these ‘synchronized orbit’ planets are very different.”

“Here, the dark sides of these planets are in perpetual night, and the warming effect wins out, whereas on the dayside, the cooling effect wins out,” he continued. “The effect is to moderate the temperature extremes, thus making the planet more habitable.”

Exoplanet 55 Cancri e An artist's concept of super-Earth exoplanet Cancri e, which likely has an atmosphere that is thicker than Earth's. One face of the planet is always facing its parent star, while another side is always facing away. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech