After NASA’s Kepler telescope was launched in 2009, it started identifying exoplanets that orbit other stars. Until now, astronomers used it to find more than 2,000 planets.
The main mission of the telescope was to find planets that orbit the stars in a habitable zone. That meant that they must orbit not too far or too close to them in order to have liquid water on its surface. They could also have life on them. Basically, astronomers were looking for planets that were similar to Earth. But they also took into consideration gas giants.
A Closer Look to the Moons of the Gas Giants
While giant gaseous exoplanets are not the candidates for habiting life, those that are in the habitable zone could have rocky moons that can harbor life. Dr. Stephen Kane is a researcher at the University of Southern Queensland and the University of California, Riverside, and a co-author of the study, explaining that:
“There are currently 175 known moons orbiting the eight planets in our Solar System. While most of these moons orbit Saturn and Jupiter, which are outside the Sun’s habitable zone, that may not be the case in other solar systems. Including rocky exomoons in our search for life in space will greatly expand the places we can look.”
The lead author Michelle Hill, an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Queensland, added that they have a new tactic: they “looked at whether these giant exoplanets had large rocky moons. There are potentially a lot more moons than there are Earth-size planets, so this research means there could be double the number of possibly habitable worlds out there in the habitable zone.”
The Next Step: Finding The Exomoons
Dr. Kane, Hill and the team of researchers found 121 giant planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their stars. They are over three times the radii of the Earth, but each hosts many large exomoons.
The next step is to help detect the exomoons, added Hill:
“Our follow-up studies will help inform future telescope design so that we can detect these exomoons, study their properties, and look for signs of life.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.