How to Make Earth Even More Habitable? Change Jupiter’s Orbit, Say Planetary Scientists

Everybody needs a giant ball of gas like Jupiter in their solar system to stabilize things on their home planet. Still, even a slight tilt in Jupiter's orbit could make many more areas on Earth habitable. But what happens if Jupiter were to orbit closer to the Sun?
habitable earth jupiter

Jupiter is a giant planet that orbits around the Sun. It’s been around for a long time and affects Earth’s climate. Over time, it has changed our orbit, affecting how we live. Jupiter’s effect on Earth’s climate might change again in the future, so it’s important to understand it.

Because Jupiter is massive, 2.5 times the mass of all the other planets combined, anything Jupiter does in orbit can have a very noticeable effect on the rest of the Solar System including how habitable are the planets in the solar system’s goldilocks zone.

An old study of Jupiter proved that a change in its orbit could negatively affect the habitability of Earth

In 2019, an international team of researchers published a study in which they showed, based on simulations, that altering the orbit of Jupiter could very quickly make the entire Solar System unstable.


A new study of Jupiter has proved that a change in its orbit could positively affect the habitability of Earth

Now in a new study where scientists have run more simulations. They have shown that the opposite can also be true. The latest research has revealed Earth isn’t as habitable as it could be. If Jupiter’s orbit remained the same, but the shape of its orbit changed, it would increase this planet’s habitability, according to planetary scientist Pam Vervoort of the University of California, Riverside.

The study carried out by the University of California is important because it’s complicated to figure out which parts of the Solar System make Earth habitable. With more knowledge, we can better understand what makes a world livable.

What happens if you tweak Jupiter’s orbit?

A tweak to Jupiter’s orbit could have a gravitational effect on the Earth where some parts of the planet would get closer to the Sun, warming up into a temperate and habitable range.

Animation of Orbital eccentricity
Animation of Orbital eccentricity by NASA

However, you don’t want the tweak to go the wrong way. If Jupiter moved closer to the Sun, Earth would become less habitable. Such a move would cause Earth to tilt more sharply on its rotational axis than it does currently. A sharper tilt would cause large sections of our planet to freeze, with more extreme seasons. Winter sea ice would extend to an area four times greater than it currently does.

Having a gas giant in a star system can generally be seen as a good thing

Apart from the potential of a gas giant in our solar system that could make life on Earth unpredictable, apparently, if there is a gas giant in the same system as a planet, it is a good thing; it means that exoplanets could be habitable. However, there are some caveats to this theory. For example, if the gas giant is too close to the planet, it could cause too much heat and radiation, thus making the planet uninhabitable. Additionally, if the gas giant is too far from the planet, it might not have enough gas to support life. So, it’s important to find the right gas giant for the right planet!

Hubble captures crisp new image of Jupiter and Europa 50354436493
Jupiter and Europa by ESA under CC BY 2.0

When we’re looking for habitable planets in other planetary systems beyond our own corner of the galaxy, we often use Earth as the perfect template. However, we must understand how other planets, such as Jupiter, contribute to the Earth’s habitability. The results have implications for the search for habitable worlds outside the Solar System by providing a new set of parameters by which potential habitability can be assessed.


Although we don’t currently have any tools that can conclusively gauge the habitability of an exoplanet – planets that orbit stars outside our Solar System – scientists have been collecting a population of worlds at which we ought to take a closer look based on several characteristics.

The Rare Earth hypothesis covers many permutations of why Earth is unique and habitable for intelligent life. For example, planets that are close to their suns, planets with atmospheres, planets with large moons, and planets with a high percentage of water. The following five factors must sync perfectly if you want to find habitable exoplanets in other systems.

The first is where the exoplanet is in relation to its host star – it needs to be at a distance not so close that any surface liquid water would evaporate, not so distant that the water would freeze.


The second is whether or not the exoplanet has an atmosphere – if it does, it needs to be thick enough to block out most of the star’s light but not so thick that it becomes a greenhouse gas.

The third is whether or not the exoplanet has a magnetic field – if it does, it needs to be strong enough to keep the planet’s atmosphere from being stripped away by the star’s magnetic field. In recent years there has been concern about the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field.

The fourth is whether or not the exoplanet has a solid surface – if it does, it needs to be rocky enough to support life but not so rocky that it becomes uninhabitable.


The fifth is whether or not the exoplanet has an ocean – if it does, it needs to be deep enough so that any water on the surface doesn’t freeze, but not so deep that the water becomes too salty.

Using Jupiter’s orbit to find other habitable planets

The study was based on the eccentricity of Jupiter’s orbit – the degree to which that orbit is elongated and elliptical. Essentially, when searching for new planets that humans could settle on, we’ll have to very carefully observe what the gas giants are doing, the distance that the planet is from its star, and the other factors listed above. That is a lot of permutations to run when a planet 369 million miles away from another can make it more or less habitable.

1024px Eccentric Habitable Zones
Eccentric Habitable Zones by NASA

The ramifications are potentially enormous. If a hostile alien race did want to harm humans, they would only need to find a way to alter Jupiter’s orbit, and a slight change to it would have massive effects here on Earth to create scenarios worse than the film Moonfall.