The Influence of Eccentricity Cycles on Exoplanet Habitability
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
In our search for habitable exoplanets, it is important to understand how planetary habitability is influenced by orbital configurations that differ from those of the terrestrial planets in our Solar system. In particular, observational surveys have revealed the prevalence of planetary systems around binary stars. Within these systems, the gravitational influence of a companion star can induce libration in the eccentricity of the planet's orbit (referred to as Kozai Cycles) on timescales as short as thousands of years. The resulting fluctuations in stellar flux at the top of the atmosphere can potentially induce dramatic variations in surface temperatures, with direct implications for the planet's habitability prospects. We investigate this research problem using two steps. First, we utilize the MERCURY N-body integrator in order to calculate the eccentricity of a hypothetical Earth-analogue under the gravitational influence of a stellar companion. Second, we run a coupled Global Climate Model (GCM) at various stages of a cycle provided by the MERCURY runs in order to examine if the increase in insolation renders the planet uninhabitable. This work will allow us to better understand how Kozai cycles influence the boundaries of a planet's habitable zone.