The Habitable Zone and the Generalized Greenhouse Effect

  • Giora Shaviv
  • Smadar Bressler
  • Nir J. Shaviv
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 28)


It is generally tacitly assumed that the atmosphere of a habitable planet absorbs in the infrared and is transparent in the visible. We consider the cases in which the optical depth in the visible is not negligible. We show that such planets can harbor life under conditions similar to those found on Earth. Moreover, it is conceivable that planetary evolution starts with phases in which the optical depth in the visible is not negligible and evolves out of it or passes through such a phase during the evolution of the planet.

To this goal, we present a generalized theory of the greenhouse effect (GHE) as a function of the optical depths in the visible and the infrared and solve it under the radiative boundary conditions relevant to Earth. We then investigate the parameter space to search for domains with adequate average surface temperature and show how the optical depths in the visible and infrared combine to create a range of life-supporting temperatures and hence extend the habitable zone significantly.


Optical Depth Greenhouse Effect Saturation Temperature Molecular Absorption Central Star 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsIsrael Institute of TechnologyHaifaIsrael
  2. 2.The Racah Institute of PhysicsThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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