Habitable Zones & Global Climate

A Methane Extension to the Classical Habitable Zone

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
May 8, 2018
Filed under
A Methane Extension to the Classical Habitable Zone

The habitable zone (HZ) is the circumstellar region where standing bodies of liquid water could exist on the surface of a rocky planet. Conventional definitions assume that CO2 and H2O are the only greenhouse gases.

The outer edge of this classical N2-CO2-H2O HZ extends out to nearly 1.7 AU in our solar system, beyond which condensation and scattering by CO2 outstrip its greenhouse capacity. We use a single column radiative-convective climate model to assess the greenhouse effect of CH4 (10 to about 100,000 ppm) on the classical habitable zone (N2-CO2-H2O) for main-sequence stars with stellar temperatures between 2,600 to 10,000 K (about A3 to M8). Assuming N2-CO2-H2O atmospheres, previous studies have shown that cooler stars more effectively heat terrestrial planets.

However, we find that the addition of CH4 produces net greenhouse warming (tens of degrees) in planets orbiting stars hotter than a mid-K (about 4500K), whereas a prominent anti-greenhouse effect is noted for planets around cooler stars. We show that 10% CH4 can increase the width of the classical HZ of the hottest stars (TEFF = 10,000 K) by over 20%. In contrast, the CH4 anti-greenhouse can shrink the HZ for the coolest stars (TEFF = 2,600 K) by a similar percentage. We find that dense CO2-CH4 atmospheres near the outer edge of hotter stars may suggest inhabitance, highlighting the importance of including secondary greenhouse gases in alternative definitions of the HZ. We parameterize the limits of this N2-CO2-H2O-CH4 habitable zone and discuss implications in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Ramses M. Ramirez, Lisa Kaltenegger
(Submitted on 8 May 2018)

Comments: Published in The Astrophysical Journal (8 Figures, 2 Tables, 25 pages) this http URL
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Journal reference: Ramirez, R.M. and Kaltenegger, L. 2018. A methane extension to the classical habitable zone. The Astrophysical Journal 858:72, 2
Cite as: arXiv:1805.02801 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1805.02801v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Ramses Ramirez
[v1] Tue, 8 May 2018 01:58:08 GMT (685kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻