You reside on the lovely terrestrial planet Earth, which handily sits in the solar system’s habitable zone. It is not so heated that your body fluids would boil, but it is just the right distance from the Sun to prevent the planet’s surface from freezing over.
Of course, the environment is also a factor. It maintains the Earth warmer than it otherwise would be. This results from the greenhouse effect, in which the Earth absorbs short-wavelength solar energy and emits its long-wavelength infrared radiation.
The atmosphere’s greenhouse gases capture some of this infrared radiation, which causes more heating and temperature rise. Therefore, the Earth would be below zero if it weren’t for greenhouse gases, making it impossible for life as we know it to exist.
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So it appears that the Earth is in a favorable position, but what about the distant future? The Sun will run out of hydrogen in its center in about five billion years. The Sun will then start to contract under the force of its gravity as its outer areas expand.
The Sun is losing mass throughout this time, which causes its gravitational force to weaken, allowing the Earth’s orbit to expand as if it were moving away.
Is the bigger orbit, though, sufficient to preserve Earthly life? Well… certainly not, no. In the next billion years, the Earth’s temperatures will rise to a point where the water will evaporate, turning your planet into a dry, desolate wasteland. This will happen because the Sun’s luminosity, or brightness, increases by about 10% every billion years as it burns hydrogen.
Currently, scientists are uncertain if the planet will be swallowed by the red giant Sun like the inner planets Mercury and Venus. Some believe that the Earth may be able to resist being pulled into the Sun’s gravitation, while others believe that a fiery end is unavoidable. Therefore, the only option for life on Earth to continue after that is to completely leave the planet… long before the Sun runs out of hydrogen.
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