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Astronomers Explain Why Earth is Habitable and Other Planets Aren’t

posted: 07/22/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
EPIC Earth photo
NASA

There are an estimated 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone -- why is Earth the only one capable of harboring life (that we know of)?

According to researchers from the University of British Columbia, asteroid impacts paved the way for life to thrive on Earth. In a new study, published in the current edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, astronomers suggest that Earth's original uranium- and potassium-rich crust was destroyed by repeated asteroid impacts early in the planet's history.

The process is known as impact erosion, and the resulting loss of those two important elements may have played a major role in the formation of Earth's climate, magnetic field and plate tectonics.

According to researchers, tectonic activity (indirectly caused by impact erosion) stimulated volcanic activity across the planet. The resulting eruptions funneled greenhouse gases from the planet's innards into the atmosphere, creating a habitable environment for life.

"We played out this impact erosion story forward in time and we were able to show that the effect of the conditions governing the initial composition of a planet can have profound consequences for its evolution. It's a very special set of circumstances that make Earth," explains study lead author Mark Jellinek.

Click here for more information from the University of British Columbia

Learn more about plate tectonics:

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Plate Tectonics
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