Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Will Kepler Find Habitable Moons?

Date:
September 3, 2009
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Summary:
Since the launch of the NASA Kepler Mission earlier this year, astronomers have been keenly awaiting the first detection of an Earth-like planet around another star. Now, in an echo of science fiction movies a team of scientists thinks that they may even find habitable ‘exomoons,’ too.

Artist's impression of a hypothetical exomoon in orbit around a Saturn-like planet in another planetary system.
Credit: Dan Durda

Since the launch of the NASA Kepler Mission earlier this year, astronomers have been keenly awaiting the first detection of an Earth-like planet around another star. Now, in an echo of science fiction movies a team of scientists led by Dr David Kipping of University College London thinks that they may even find habitable ‘exomoons,’ too.

The new results will appear in a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Kepler’s primary mission is to monitor thousands of stars looking for characteristic dips in their brightness as orbiting planets pass in front of them in so-called ‘transit’ events. The orbiting observatory should be able to time these transits to an extremely high accuracy.

Dr Kipping has already devised a method for detecting exomoons but no-one was sure whether it could really be used with current technology. He and his team have now modelled the properties of the instruments on Kepler, simulating the expected signal strength that a habitable moon would generate. An exomoon’s gravity tugs on the planet it orbits, making the planet wobble during its orbit around its host star. The resulting changes in the position and velocity of the planet should be detectable by Kepler through accurate timing of the transits.

The scientists considered a wide range of possible planetary systems and found that a fluffy Saturn-like planet (the ringed world is extremely low in mass for its size) gives the best possible chance for detecting a moon, rather than a denser Jupiter-like world. This is because planets like Saturn are large – blocking out a lot of light as they pass in front of their star – but very light, meaning they will wobble much more than a heavy planet.

If the Saturn-like planet is at the right distance from its star, then the temperature will allow liquid water to be stable on any sufficiently large moons in orbit around it and these could then be habitable.

The team found that habitable exomoons down to 0.2 times the mass of the Earth are readily detectable with Kepler. Potentially the observatory could look for Earth-mass habitable moons around 25,000 stars up to 500 light-years away from the Sun. In the whole sky, there should be millions of stars which could be surveyed for habitable exomoons with present technology.

Whether or not such bodies are common in the Galaxy is unknown but astronomers now have the tools and the methodology to find out.

Dr Kipping says, "For the first time, we have demonstrated that potentially habitable moons up to hundreds of light years away may be detected with current instrumentation"

‘As we ran the simulations, even we were surprised that moons as small as one-fifth of the Earth's mass could be spotted.

‘It seems probable that many thousands, possibly millions, of habitable exomoons exist in the Galaxy and now we can start to look for them."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kipping D. M., Fossey S. J., Campanella G. On the detectability of habitable moons with Kepler-class photometry. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2009; (in press)

Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Will Kepler Find Habitable Moons?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903064925.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). (2009, September 3). Will Kepler Find Habitable Moons?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903064925.htm
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Will Kepler Find Habitable Moons?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903064925.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finally Reaches Long-Term Goal

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) — After more than two years, NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reached Mount Sharp, its long-term destination. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

SpaceX's Elon Musk Really Wants To Colonize Mars

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — Elon Musk has been talking about his goal of colonizing Mars for years now, but how much of it does he actually have figured out, and is it possible? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

International Space Station Crew Returns Safely To Earth

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The three-man crew touched down in Kazakhstan Wednesday after more than five months of science experiments in orbit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins