Distant Moons May Support Life

spaceIn an article published June 13 in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Southern Queensland have discovered more than 100 giant planets that could assist by supporting the moons could harbor life. His work leads the design of future telescopes can detect these possible moons and look for telltale signs of life, called biofirms in their atmospheres.

Since launching NASA’s Kepler telescope in 2009, scientists have identified thousands of planets outside our solar system called exoplanets. A key objective of the Kepler mission is to identify the planets that are in the habitable zones of their stars, which means that it is neither too hot nor too cold for there to be liquid water and possibly life.

The terrestrial planets (rocky) are prime targets in the search for life because some of them may be geological and atmospherically similar to the Earth. Another place to look is the many gas giants identified during the Kepler mission. Although they are not candidates for life, Jupiter-like planets in the habitable zone harbor rocky moons, called exomoons that could support life.

“There are currently 175 known orbits in orbit around eight planets in our solar system, although most of these moons orbit Saturn and Jupiter, which are from the livable zone of the Sun, which may not be the case in other solar systems,” said Stephen Kane Associate Professor of Planetary Astrophysics and member of the Alternative Astrobiology Center at UCR. “The inclusion of rock liberation in our search for life in space will greatly expand the places we can see.”

Researchers have identified 121 giant planets that have lanes in the habitable areas of their stars. In more than three times the Earth’s radius, these gas planets are less common than terrestrial planets, but each is expected to host more large moons.

Scientists have speculated that Exomonetas could provide a favorable environment for life, perhaps even better than Earth. This is because they receive energy not only from their star but also from radiation that is reflected on their planet. So far, no exceptions have been confirmed.

“Now that we’ve created a giant planet database known in the habitable zone of his star, the observations of the best candidate exomonedas potential host will narrow the expected properties to be exoon. Our follow-up studies help to inform the future design of the telescope so that we can recognize this moon, study its properties and look for traces of life, “she said. Michelle Hill, an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Queensland, works with Kane and joins the UCR graduate program in the fall.

Journal Reference:

Michelle L. Hill, Stephen R. Kane, Eduardo Seperuelo Duarte, Ravi K. Kopparapu, Dawn M. Gelino, Robert A. Wittenmyer. Exploring Kepler Giant Planets in the Habitable ZoneThe Astrophysical Journal, 2018; 860 (1): 67 DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aac384

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