(ORDO NEWS) — There is speculation that exomoons may play an important role in the habitability of exoplanets, and may also be a good place to look for life outside the solar system.
In a new study, a team of scientists looked at how an exomoon’s orbit around their parent bodies can bring about (and limit) tidal heating – when gravitational interaction leads to geological activity and heating in the interior.
This, in turn, could help exoplanet hunters and astrobiologists determine which exomoons are more likely to be habitable.
The study was conducted by graduate student Armen Tokajian and Professor Anthony L. Piro of the University of Southern California (USC) and the Carnegie Institution of Science Observatory.
Their analysis was largely inspired by the presence of multiplanetary lunar structures in the solar system, like those orbiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
In many cases, these icy moons are thought to have internal oceans formed by tidal heating, when gravitational interactions with a large planet lead to geological processes in its interior.
This, in turn, contributes to the existence of liquid oceans due to the presence of hydrothermal vents at the interface between the core and the mantle.
The heat and chemicals released into the oceans by such sources could make these ocean worlds potentially habitable – something that scientists hope to explore for decades to come.
Large moons like ours can stabilize the planet’s axial tilt, allowing it to experience regular seasons.
Tidal interaction could prevent planets from being tidally locked with their host star, which affects climate.
The moons can tidally heat the planet, helping it maintain its molten core, which has many geological implications.
When a gaseous planet is in the habitable zone of a star, life can begin on the moon itself.
In recent decades, geologists and astrobiologists have suggested that the formation of the Moon (about 4.5 billion years ago) played an important role in the origin of life.
Our planet’s magnetic field is the result of the rotation of its molten outer core around its solid inner core in the opposite direction of the planet’s own rotation.
The presence of this magnetic field protects the Earth from harmful radiation and allows our atmosphere to remain stable over time, rather than being slowly destroyed by the solar wind (as was the case on Mars).
In the coming years, next-generation telescopes such as James Webb (who will release his first images on July 12) will rely on a combination of advanced optics, infrared imaging and spectrometers to detect chemical signatures in exoplanet atmospheres.
Other instruments, such as ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will rely on adaptive optics to provide direct images of exoplanets. The ability to detect the chemical signatures of exomoons will greatly expand the search for potential signs of life.
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