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Science Moves Closer to Discovering Exo-Moons

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posted on Mar, 24 2015 @ 03:13 PM
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2015 may end up being the "Year of the Exo-Moon".

It is not an original thought by me but rather the opinon of Exoplanet hunter and characterizer extraordinaire Sara Seager.

Exomoons are fascinating because they present another possibly habitable environment for life outside our solar system. We know of tons of "Warm Jupiters", massive planets like Jupiter but orbiting within the habitable zone of their star. In fact between Kepler and other exoplanet research programs we know of around 1,000 Warm Jupiters (aka Warm Jovians):



While these planets themselves are not habitable, they may host large moons like Jupiter and Saturn do in our Solar System, however unlike the cold, icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn these exomoons would be warmed by their star in a way similar to the way the Earth is warmed by our Sun since the planets these moons would orbit would be in the "goldilocks zone".


"Sunset" on a habitable exomoon

In fact one of the first exoplanets ever discovered, Upsilon Andromedae d, is a large gas giant which orbits in the habitable zone of a star in our nearby neighborhood 44 light years away. It was discovered by Geoffrey Marcy of the California Planet Search at Lick Observatory in 1999. He considers it his favorite planet discovery due to this possibility of a habitable moon, even though he has discovered more planets than anyone else on Earth (70 of the first 100 exoplanets were found by Marcy).


ANIMATION: I simulated the unique sunrise/sunset cycle on a habitable moon circling Upsilon Andromedae d

Habitable exomoons also feature heavily in science fiction because the sky of such a moon is visually striking, dominated by the gas giant it orbits, sometimes with a ring system.

As a result, such moons have featured in Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Avatar and the Star Trek franchise such as Pandora and Endor, pictured below:




But far from being only figments of sci-fi, exomoons are almost certain to exist and it would be shocking if we did not find them.

Planetary formation models produce exomoons in spades so the next step has always been to look for them. Sounds easy enough right?

In actuality they have remained mostly undetectable until the launch of NASA's Kepler Mission and even with Kepler data, the signature or "signal" of an exomoon in a Kepler lightcurve is miniscule, almost close to the random noise so they are very difficult to tease out.

That has not stopped people from trying to develop techniques where such moons pop out of the noise, and the most notable of these researchers is Dr. David Kipping of Harvard University's HEK (Hunting Exomoons with Kepler) project.

Below is an interesting lecture by him which is not too technical (and also references sci-fi) from his "Life as a Planetary Phenomena" class at Harvard:



Recently Dr. Kipping has published a paper which puts some limits on the size of moons detectable using Kepler data around various size exoplanets. This is a key step in the road to the first discovered and confirmed exomoon of any type, habitable or not.

This research is fresh, having just been posted a few days ago by the Astrophysical Journal.

The paper looks closely 41 Kepler Objects of Interest (KOIs), these are Kepler planet candidates, 90% of which will be confirmed.

The research brings the total number of KOIs examined by HEK up to 57 and shows that the process is beginning to move beyond just computer simulations and assumption heavy theory to actual Kepler data.

The number one aim of the paper?

To determine how small a moon could be detected around each of these planet candidates given the kind of predicted tell-tale signs that would reveal an exomoon’s existence.



GRAPHIC: After looking at around 60 exoplanets for moons, the HEK team have defined limits of detectability for each world. This shows an ability to detect even the smallest moons capable of sustaining an Earth-like atmosphere (“Mini-Earths”) for 1 in 4 cases studied. Though a confirmed discovery has not been made, the detailed survey of 60 planets spanning several years reveals what can be done with current technology. - The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) Project.

So, basically, this shows the value of the "null detection" in science.

If an exoplanet that is closely examined does not turn up an exomoon that leads to a statement of how massive a moon has been excluded by the current data, which means the team is learning much about the sensitivity of its methods. From the paper:


… based on empirical sensitivity limits, we show for the first time that the HEK project is sensitive to even the smallest moons capable of being Earthlike for 1 in 4 cases (after accounting for false-positives). In terms of planet-mass ratios, we find even that the Earth-Moon mass-ratio is detectable for 1 in 8 of cases, posing a challenge but not an insurmountable barrier. Mass ratios of ∼ 10−4, such as that of the Galilean satellites, have never been achieved. However, if Galilean-like satellites reside around lower-mass planets than Jupiter, of order ∼ 20 M⊕, then we do find sensitivity, as demonstrated by the limit of 1.7 Ganymede masses achieved for Kepler-10c.


Which is good news, because the team can now make factual statements about the actual mass of a detectable exomoon. In 1 of 3 planets surveyed, an exomoon with Earth’s mass is detectable. Kipping believes that we can move down to the smallest moon thought capable of supporting an Earth-like atmosphere and still detect it in 1 of 4 of the cases studied. No exomoons have yet been detected but we are learning just what our capabilities are.

According to Kipping:


“Here we report on our null results and the first estimate of empirical sensitivities. Ultimately, we would like to actually discover a clear signal and are pursuing some interesting candidates we hope will pan out. Either way though, I like to recall what the Nobel Prize winning American physicist Richard Feynman said about science: ‘Nature is there and she’s going to come out the way she is, and therefore when we go to investigate it we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we’re trying to do except to find out more about it’.”



Image: The Moon has about 1% the mass of the Earth posing a challenge for the HEK team, since such configurations are detectable for 1 in 8 planets surveyed. The much larger Pluto-Charon mass-ratio of 11.6% is much more detectable. - Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) Project

While no exomoons were detected in the 41 KOIs surveyed in the study, four, KOI-0092.01, KOI-0458.01, KOI-0722.01 and KOI-1808.01, showed up as false positives for an exomoon. Stellar activity is a likely cause of the false positives nevertheless this demonstrates that such moons, if they are out there are detectable and that such an exciting discovery could come as soon as this year.


Paper: The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK): V. A Survey of 41 Planetary Candidates for Exomoons - Kipping, et al.
edit on 24-3-2015 by JadeStar because: (no reason given)




posted on Mar, 24 2015 @ 05:39 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

wow , you really are giving that equation a bashing


great stuff but no more please
....

o go on then , so how does this now factor into the drake equation ? don't forget to add your previous sums and workings out

funbox



posted on Mar, 24 2015 @ 06:23 PM
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Nice thread


I've always thought it would be so cool to see another planet in the sky, like in those images. You also have to wonder how things would be affected by said planet. . For example seasons, the gravity, would the population use it to tell the time, would they pray to it.. etc.. etc. . Etc....



posted on Mar, 24 2015 @ 07:47 PM
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Jadestar; I absolutely Love, love, your passion and intellect of space and it's magnificent creations..


Your threads are laid out like a pro, and the informative details you share with this community is nearly unmatched by most threads authored.

I thank you for your passion and sharing it here with us, your knowledge and views of the universe.

Great work, great thread, keep it up!



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 05:35 AM
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Great post. Amazing insight and we'll articulated to cater for the hobbyists and the enliightened. The thing I struggle with is aren't all these exo moons surrounding large gas giants victim of gravitational pulls that destabilise the inner cores of these moons or have they found evidence to the contrary in distant solar systems. It would be difficult to inhabit these types of moons orbiting larger celestial objects if these violent planet/moon relationships are the norm.



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 12:41 PM
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originally posted by: funbox
a reply to: JadeStar

wow , you really are giving that equation a bashing


great stuff but no more please
....

o go on then , so how does this now factor into the drake equation ? don't forget to add your previous sums and workings out

funbox




It would massively affect the drake equation since in theory one Gas Giant in a habitable zone could have several habitable moons.



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 12:44 PM
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originally posted by: Misterlondon
Nice thread


I've always thought it would be so cool to see another planet in the sky, like in those images. You also have to wonder how things would be affected by said planet. . For example seasons, the gravity, would the population use it to tell the time, would they pray to it.. etc.. etc. . Etc....


Yes. In one case I present it could lead to all sorts of different ideas by a primitive culture.

If you look closely at the sunrise, sunset, eclipse video i put together you'll see that at certain times of the moon's year the circular shadow of the habitable moon would appear on the gas giant's atmosphere and then not long after this happens the gas giant would begin to eclipse the star so there would be days with two nights.

Imagine the sorts of mythology that would produce!



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 12:45 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

not shying away from the math are you ?
, but ill grant you respite until a greater mean can be seen, still all fresh atm I guess

besides , forget about cups of tea , the maths would probably have to be done in a restaurant, under duress of a dinnerparty

funbox



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 12:46 PM
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originally posted by: rossacus
Great post. Amazing insight and we'll articulated to cater for the hobbyists and the enliightened. The thing I struggle with is aren't all these exo moons surrounding large gas giants victim of gravitational pulls that destabilise the inner cores of these moons or have they found evidence to the contrary in distant solar systems. It would be difficult to inhabit these types of moons orbiting larger celestial objects if these violent planet/moon relationships are the norm.


It would depend on the orbit.

Look at the large moons of Jupiter for example. IO is stressed, Europa, a little less so, Ganymede not as much, etc. So where the moon orbits in relation to the giant planet would have a lot to do with how stable its crust and subsurface would be.

The same goes for tidal heating.



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 12:47 PM
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originally posted by: funbox
a reply to: JadeStar

not shying away from the math are you ?
, but ill grant you respite until a greater mean can be seen, still all fresh atm I guess

besides , forget about cups of tea , the maths would probably have to be done in a restaurant, under duress of a dinnerparty

funbox






Yep, "back of the napkin" equations are kinda a thing haha.



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 01:04 PM
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originally posted by: Elementalist
Jadestar; I absolutely Love, love, your passion and intellect of space and it's magnificent creations..


Your threads are laid out like a pro, and the informative details you share with this community is nearly unmatched by most threads authored.

I thank you for your passion and sharing it here with us, your knowledge and views of the universe.

Great work, great thread, keep it up!


Thanks. Like I said, we're entering what many in exoplanet, astrobiology and other related research consider a "New Renaissance Era" of discovery.

What is baffling for many in the field is that just like the first Renaissance, the average person in the street is the last to know this, even though we have the internet and forms of communication and connectivity a Renaissance era person wouldn't even have dreamt of.

This is why most of the science conferences centered around these topics have a section of talks and presentations on "public outreach" because what good is all of this research if the general public is unaware of it?

And as we've seen, if the public is aware of something (like the beautiful imagery from Hubble) they will get behind and even fall in love with it. People are not stupid and these discoveries and the promise of even more exciting ones touch what I feel is a genetic predisposition of curiosity which every child is born with. Even through life beating people down as adults that childlike curiosity remains because it is part of who we are as humans.

Part of the reason I post these stories is because often the most interesting research going on is buried in research papers which while publicly accessible have titles that aren't nearly as exciting as what is contained within them (we scientists are often a conservative bunch).

But if the average person understands that we are on the brink of discoveries which may change the course of human history they may be more apt to support things like larger basic research and science budgets in their nations and in the US, a higher budget for NASA in particular.

What is more amazing than what is already being done is what could be done with more telescopes, probes, etc.

So like, since this is a field I hope to enter well after I graduate I see my posts on ATS as just another small step of public outreach to share the joy of inquiry and discovery with a lot of people who are here because their minds are curious and they want to know more about some of the big questions science is only now capable of addressing in a systematic way.

edit on 25-3-2015 by JadeStar because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 08:42 PM
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originally posted by: JadeStar

Yes. In one case I present it could lead to all sorts of different ideas by a primitive culture.

If you look closely at the sunrise, sunset, eclipse video i put together you'll see that at certain times of the moon's year the circular shadow of the habitable moon would appear on the gas giant's atmosphere and then not long after this happens the gas giant would begin to eclipse the star so there would be days with two nights.

Imagine the sorts of mythology that would produce!


Your post reminded me of Asimov's 'Nightfall' -- the short story and then novel.

(Not the movie, though, that was crap)



posted on Mar, 25 2015 @ 08:45 PM
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a reply to: JadeStar

And for that, I wish you luck and balance on your journey of chasing your dreams, and fulfilling them.
You sure are in depth with the universal creation outside of our atmosphere.

One day maybe NASA drafts you, Goodluck on wherever the universe takes you friend!

Regards



posted on Mar, 26 2015 @ 01:32 AM
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originally posted by: Elementalist
a reply to: JadeStar

And for that, I wish you luck and balance on your journey of chasing your dreams, and fulfilling them.
You sure are in depth with the universal creation outside of our atmosphere.


Thank you.



One day maybe NASA drafts you, Goodluck on wherever the universe takes you friend!

Regards


They sort of already have





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