Steppenwolf: Interstellar Rogue Planets May Support Life
Rogue planets are planets that were formed in the usual way in a solar system, but which are "kicked out" by slingshot interactions with other bodies in the system.
Two researchers at the University of Chicago, Dorian Abbot and Eric Switzer, have calculated that an Earth-like rogue planet could support life in liquid oceans that are heated from below by the planet's core, and insulated by a thick layer of liquid ice.
They call such a body a Steppenwolf planet "since any life in this strange habitat would exist like a lone wolf wandering the galactic steppe."
(Regions in which a subglacial ocean could exist)
Diagram depicting, as a function of planetary mass and
temperature at the top of the ice, regions in which a subglacial
ocean could exist on a rogue planet if heat is lost through the
ice only by conduction. The lower dashed curve is the minimum
possible ice top temperature allowed to radiate the geothermal heat
ﬂux in steady-state. The upper dashed curve corresponds to the
melting point of CO2. A subglacial ocean is possible for Earth’s
water mass fraction in the light shaded region and is possible in
both shaded regions if the planetary water mass fraction is ten
A Steppenwolf planet’s lifetime will be limited by
the decay of the geothermal heat ﬂux, which is determined by the half-life of its stock of radioisotopes and by the decay of its heat of formation.
These decay times are ∼1−5 Gyr, so its lifetime is thus
comparable to planets in the traditional habitable zone
of main-sequence stars.
If a Steppenwolf planet harbors life, it could have originated in a more benign era before ejection from the
host star. Alternatively, life could originate after ejection
around hydrothermal vents, which are a proposed location for the origin of life on Earth. If life can originate and survive on a Steppenwolf
planet, it must be truly ubiquitous in the universe.
We have shown that a rogue planet drifting through interstellar space could harbor a subglacial liquid ocean despite its low emission temperature, and so might be considered habitable. Such an object could be detected and
followed-up using current technology if it passed within 1000 AU of Earth.
Science fiction writers have speculated on the idea of rogue planets. In his beautiful 1977 novel Dying of the Light, George R.R. Martin writes about a world named Worlorn, a rogue planet discovered by the race of Man in the distant future. When the path of the object was plotted, it was clear that it would make a single close approach to the Hellcrown, a multiple star system. Fifty standard years of sunlight would briefly warm this wandering world, the venue for the greatest festival ever held...
There was a century of storms as Worlorn neared the light: years of melting ice and volcanic activity and earthquakes. A frozen atomosphere came, bit by bit, to life and hideous winds howled like monster infants. All this the outworlders faced and fought.
The terraformers came from Tober-in-the-Veil, the weather wardens from Darkdawn... The men of High Kavalaan supervised it all, since High Kavalaan claimed the rogue... At last Worlorn was gentled. Then cities rose, and strange forests flowered ... and animals were set loose to give the planet life.
In ai-589 the Festival of the Fringe opened.. On that first day the Toberians let their stratoshield shimmer, so the clouds and the sunlight ran and swirled in kaleidoscope patterns. Other days followed, and the ships came...
(From Dying of the Light)
From The Steppenwolf: A Proposal For A Habitable Planet in Interstellar Space via MIT's Technology Review.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/9/2011)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )
Related News Stories -
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
'Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task.' - Arthur C. Clarke, 1978.
Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.' - Jack Williamson, 1933.
Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...' - James Blish, 1957.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
IBM's Grain Of Sand Computer
'Our ancestors... thought to make the very sand beneath their feet intelligent...'
Liquid Metal Shape-Changing 'Soft Robotics'
'A mimetic poly-alloy... 'What the hell does that mean?''
The Hammock Caravan And Italo Calvino's Octavia
'Now I will tell you how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made.'
Super-Resolution Microscopy Provides '4D' Views
View the magnified interior of living cells.
Have I Seen The Tesla Roadster Story Before?
'Only it wasn't a vessel. It was an automobile...'
Watch 'Do You Trust This Computer' For Free Today
Thanks for making this available, Elon.
Self-Driving Car Ticketed
This just missed making my day.
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
'Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task.'
Burner Generates Temporary Phone Numbers
'Interesting phone system he's got, by the way...'
Walmart’s Autonomous Robot Bees
Everyone loves bees.
EA Created AI That Taught Itself To Play Battlefield
Harmless fun for computer scientists.
Is Teleportation A Death Sentence?
'A long trail of dead, he thought, left across the stars...'
New Brain Scanner Lets You Move Around
'In Bob Arctor's living room his thousand dollar custom-quality cephscope crafted by Altec...'
Can An Entire Brain Be Simulated In A Computer?
'The miles of relays and photocells had given way to the spongy globe of platinum iridium about the size of the human brain.'
Physicists Try To Turn Light Into Matter
If E=mc squared, then... m=E/c squared!
Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories