My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: McMaster's Origins Institute Rene Heller and Ralph Pudritz on Gas Giant Exomoons with life

Saturday, June 20, 2015

McMaster's Origins Institute Rene Heller and Ralph Pudritz on Gas Giant Exomoons with life

“We could be just a few decades from proving if there is life elsewhere. For all this time, we have been looking on other planets, when the answer could be on a moon”

Post­doctoral fellow at McMaster's Origins Institute Rene Heller commenting on the possibility of life on exomoons as explained in their pair of papers published in two (2) separate journals, Astronomy & Astrophysics and Astrophysical

Is there life on other planets?

Probably not, as many of the planets found so far are Gas Giants, such as GU Psc b, discovered by the University of Montreal some 115 Light Years away in the constellation Pisces as reported in my blog article entitled “University of Montreal directly images exoplanet GU Psc b using Infrared - 100 Light Year Barrier no longer an issue as Infrared Tun Up”? 

But what about their moons?

This was the question that astrophysicists Rene Heller and Ralph Pudritz sought to answer with their research that suggested that some exoplanets had moons that could support life as reported in the article “Distant moons may provide evidence of life beyond Earth, researchers say”, published June 1 2015 by Wade Hemsworth, Physorg.   
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The pair, who hail from McMaster's Origins Institute, presented their research as two (2) separate papers published in two (2) separate journals, Astronomy & Astrophysics and Astrophysical, suggests that some exomoons were habitable because:

1.      The right size and hence a Earth-like gravity
2.      Possess a breathable Oxygen rich Earth-like atmosphere
3.      Orbiting a planet in the habitable zone
4.      Surface temperature to have liquid water

Astrophysicists Rene Heller and Ralph Pudritz based their research on models of the early life of Jupiter and its system of sixteen (16) moons. They realized that based on the model, during the early years of the Solar System’s evolution, when the Sun was much hotter and the Earth had not yet become habitable, life could have flourished on these rocky moons.

As the Sun cooled, all that water may have either frozen onto the surface, such as on the Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons or sunk below the surface to form subterranean aquifers and even seas as in the case of Ganymede.

Gas Giant Exomoons might have Life – Bigger Telescopes and improved Moon-detecting algorithms needed

This idea is now being bolstered by the recent discovery of a subterranean salty sea on the moon Ganymede thanks to the research conducted by Dr Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany as reported in my blog article entitled “University of Cologne use Ganymede’s Aurora to find Underground Salty Ocean – How Lenz’s Law causes rocking Aurora from Diamagnetic Salt Water”.

Detecting exomoons is not an easy task, as already planetary scientists digging through the NASA's Kepler Space Telescope have found some 4000 exoplanets but no such exomoon. Possibly, they may exist in the data, but would require the use of more sophisticated algorithms to detect.

Alternately, Space Telescopes with higher resolution such as ESA (European Space Agency) PLATO, ATLAST (Advanced Technologies Large Aperture Space Telescope), the E-ELT
(European Extremely Large Telescope) located in Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert and the James Webb Space Telescope as described in my blog article entitled “ATLAST, James Webb Telescope and E-ELT - Bigger Space and Ground-based Telescopes for the Planet Hunters” will possess the resolution to detect exomoons.

Why habitable moons likely around Gas Giant Exoplanets – Exomoon with right ESI yet to be discovered

This idea makes sense, as you might have a situation where a Gas Giant is in the habitable zone but is unable to support life due to its surface temperature, gaseous composite and crushing gravity. However, it may have a rocky moon orbiting that planet, which may have the right size, a breathable atmosphere and being in the habitable zone, possess the right surface temperature to have liquid water.

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Planets like Gliese 832 c, located 16.1 Light years away in the Constellation Grus that was discovered by Dr. Robert Wittenmyer of the University of New South Wales as reported in my blog article entitled “Dr. Robert Wittenmyer Team discovers Gliese 832 c – Supersize my Exoplanet Please with a Serving of Super-Venus” could possibly have moons that support life.

Albeit to date no Moons have been found, the ESI (Earth Similarity Index) of such a planet would mean that life might exist on rocky moons in orbit around Gas Giant planets. Because of the limitations of our current technique used to detect planets that's based on the planet transitioning before its star, not only detecting planets with long orbits difficult, but the moons would remain undetectable.

Such is the case of exoplanet Kepler-186f orbiting an M dwarf Star Kepler-186 in the Constellation Cygnus some 1000 light years away discovered by Astronomer Dr. David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts as reported in my blog article entitled “Dr. David Kipping discovers exoplanet Kepler-421b – Discovery of

The current algorithm used to detect planets would have to be further refined to detect exomoons, which would be very difficult, being as they might be smaller relative to their host planet and have very large eccentric elliptical orbits.

But detecting them would be easy, as like the planet Earth and our Moon, there would be changes in the planet's gravitation as well as magnetosphere, as the presence of a moon would cause the planet to wobble about its axis as it transitions around its sun. That wobble, albeit faint in the visible spectra, would be detectable in UV or Infrared spectrum by a suitable Telescope.

So exomoons of Gas Giants with life?

Guess I’ll have that to my watch list of news worth items to write about; future discovery of a Gas Giant exoplanet in the habitable zone with a rocky moon that might support life.

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