Much has been made of the star system Tau Ceti by science fiction authors, star gazers, and UFO hunters over the years. Would humanity be able to thrive there, or would we find evidence of other life forms among its planets? Possibly intelligent ones? Science learns more about this tantalizing possibility and CryptoVille reports!
Scientists at the Arizona State University (ASU) have been studying the Tau Ceti star system trying to determine if it could be a viable target for humanity’s colonization of the universe. Recently a group of scientists from ASU co-wrote a paper detailing their findings called “The Chemical Composition of Tau Ceti and Possible Effects on Terrestrial Planets.” The authors are astrophysicists Michael Pagano, Amanda Truitt, and Patrick A. Young, and mineral physicist Sang-Heon (Dan) Shim.
Two orbiting planets in this star system attracted the team’s attention as possible targets for supporting human life. They are called planets e and f. Scientists warn us that just because these two planets fit the description for being in the habitable zone for humanity, it doesn’t mean there is life on either of them, much less a flourishing ecosystem. (Unidentified artist’s concept of Tau Ceti and planets, left.)
Michael Pagano explains, “Planet e is in the habitable zone only if we make very generous assumptions. Planet f initially looks more promising, but modeling the evolution for the star makes it seem probable that it has only moved into the habitable zone recently as Tau Ceti has gotten more luminous over the course of its life.”
Tau Ceti itself has what is considered an unusual ratio of magnesium and silicon. These elements are important because here on Earth, they form a good portion of our rocks. Tau Ceti has 70% more of these minerals than our sun. So what does that mean for the habitability of its surrounding planets?
According to mineral physicist Dan Shim, “With such a high magnesium and silicon ratio it is possible that the mineralogical make-up of planets around Tau Ceti could be significantly different from that of Earth. Tau Ceti’s planets could very well be dominated by the mineral olivine at shallow parts of the mantle and have lower mantles dominated by ferropericlase.”
Ferropericlase is a magnesium/iron oxide found in Earth’s lower mantle. So what we know of it is that it doesn’t flow as nicely as the lava that we see coming out of Hawaii’s volcanoes. It resists flow. So, per Wiki, that means when it moves, “hot, yet solid, mantle rock would flow more easily, possibly having profound effects on volcanism and tectonics at the planetary surface, processes which have a significant impact on the habitability of Earth.” (Artwork above right by ASU art major Joshua Gonzalez.)
Dan Shim sums it up this way, “This is a reminder that geological processes are fundamental in understanding the habitability of planets.”
That’s a bit disappointing, isn’t it? It seems these planets aren’t the perfect places to begin humanity’s colonization of the galaxy after all.
However science also tells us that with today’s advanced technology, they now can see so many extrasolar planets, that some of them are bound to be promising targets. Realistically they can’t search every one, so they will target the most promising among them.
It seems “Going Boldly Where No Man Has Gone Before” is turning out to be more problematic than we may have first thought.
I was also thinking, if and when we do begin to colonize another planet, that will make us the UFOs to any of its inhabitants!
Are you ready to colonize a planet?