Solar tides have also slowed the spin of Venus, which revolves around the Sun every 225 days and rotates every 243 days. The slight mismatch arises, scientists believe, because winds in its thick atmosphere, whose surface pressure is 93 times the that of the Earth, rub against the planet's surface and alter its spin.
Leconte and his colleagues wondered what would happen if a planet with a thinner atmosphere, like that of the Earth, revolved close to an orange- or red-dwarf star. To their surprise, the calculations indicate that, in many cases, such a world can still rotate freely. For example, a planet orbiting a red-dwarf star that is 60% as massive as the Sun does not suffer tidal locking, even if it is only a third as far from the star as Earth is from the Sun. That distance puts the planet in the red-dwarf's habitable zone, where temperatures are pleasant and liquid water can exist. And if the planet's atmosphere is 10 times thicker than that of the Earth, the planet can be even closer and still rotate freely.
Locked yet lively
What are the implications for habitability? "It's a tricky question," Leconte says. On the one hand, the climate of a freely spinning planet can mimic Earth's. On the other hand, the day side of a tidally locked planet could also support life, because previous studies have found that an atmosphere can ferry heat to the night side, so that the air does not freeze and disappear...."