It’s a question that man has asked since he first began looking to the heavens and contemplating his place in the universe: Are there others out there among the infinite cosmos? Does extraterrestrial life exist? And if so, where is it located?
New research from the University of Lincoln suggest the most likely location of extraterrestrial life lies on moons orbiting planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy, which are commonly referred to as exomoons, according to Science Daily:
“Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system and up to this point nearly 4,000 have been discovered. Only a small proportion of these are likely to be able to sustain life, existing in what is known as the habitable zone. But some planets, especially large gas giants, may harbour moons which contain liquid water.”
Lincoln University researcher Dr. Phil J. Sutton, author of a paper on exoplanets and their moons, explained how he came to his theory that exomoons may indeed contain life:
“These moons can be internally heated by the gravitational pull of the planet they orbit, which can lead to them having liquid water well outside the normal narrow habitable zone for planets that we are currently trying to find Earth-like planets in. I believe that if we can find them, moons offer a more promising avenue to finding extra-terrestrial life.”
From article, (An astrophysicist at the U.K.’s University of Lincoln says that exomoons, moons which orbit planets outside of our solar system, could contain liquid water and therefore, support life..
— M. Allen Ostrega (@MAOstrega) June 5, 2019
Sutton looked specifically at an exoplanet with the name J1407b, and he asked this question about the potential moon or moons surrounding it: Did they cause the gaps in the planet’s ring system? To find out, Sutton looked closer by using computer simulations:
“Gravitational forces between all particles were calculated and used to update the positions, velocities and accelerations in the computer models of the planet and its ring system. He then added a moon that orbited at various ratios outside of the rings to test whether this caused gaps to form where expected over 100 orbital periods.”
The result of those simulations suggests that in the case of exoplanet J1407b, a moon or moons might well have caused a scattering of particles along the edges of the planet’s rings:
“Findings revealed that while the orbiting moon did have an effect on the scattering of particles along the ring edge, the expected gaps in the ring structure were unlikely to be caused by the gravitational forces of a currently unseen moon orbiting outside the rings.”
Though we still don’t know if exomoons do indeed harbor life, additional research may one day prove that we aren’t alone in the universe, and that could well help us better understand our own origins as well as the origins of the solar system our Earth is a tiny part of.
Featured Image Via NASA/Wikimedia Commons