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Interdisciplinary Modeling of Planetary Habitability

Presentation #1204 in the session “Open Engagement Session C”.

Published onMar 17, 2021
Interdisciplinary Modeling of Planetary Habitability

Planetary habitability arises from a planet’s properties and its system’s architecture, i.e. a high-dimensional parameter space with complex feedbacks. Compounding the complexity is the nature of modern science: the knowledge and expertise required to self-consistently model the relevant processes span multiple scientific disciplines. To overcome these obstacles, we have constructed a theoretical model of planetary system evolution that connects relatively simple models of phenomena such as mantle-core dynamics, volatile cycling, atmospheric escape, climate, orbital dynamics, stellar activity, galactic perturbations, etc., to simulate potentially habitable planets for billions of years. Additionally, we have compiled this model into a modular, open source software package called VPLanet that enables these disparate processes to be simulated with a single executable and facilitate interdisciplinary research. In this presentation, we briefly review the functionality of the VPLanet model and then present recent results. First, we show that the tidally heated magma oceans of the potentially habitable planets of TRAPPIST-1 may experience a wide range of geochemical scenarios that may result in desiccation and/or atmospheric oxygen accumulation. Next, we show how planets orbiting short-period binary stars can experience a complicated orbital and instellation evolution due to the tidal damping of the host stars’ orbit. Then we consider the range of climates of Earth-like planets in multiplanet systems orbiting FGK stars with an energy balance model to predict that most planets are free of surface ice, but those with ice are more likely to support ice belts than ice caps. Finally, we discuss how to contribute to the development of the VPLanet model.

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