. 24/7 Space News .
Encouraging prospects for moon hunters
by Staff Writers
Zurich, Switzerland (SPX) Nov 26, 2018

One of the computer simulations on the formation of moons (white bodies) around Neptune (blue sphere). (Image credit: Judit Szulagyi)

Astrophysicists of the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and the Swiss NCCR PlanetS show how the icy moons of Uranus were born. Their result suggests that such potentially habitable worlds are much more abundant in the universe than previously thought. The unprecedentedly complex computer simulations were performed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Lugano.

Our solar system has numerous moons around planets: Apart from Earth and Mars, also Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus all have natural satellites. The question is, are moons common even around exoplanets that are orbiting around other stars?

"This is an intriguing problem in today's astronomy, which is hard to answer at the moment," says Judit Szulagyi, a senior research associate of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich.

The historical discovery of a first exomoon-candidate was just announced in October 2018 by an American group, but the confirmation of this body is still ongoing. With their work now published in the journal "Astrophysical Journal Letters" Judit Szulagyi and her colleagues Marco Cilibrasi and Lucio Mayer both of the University of Zurich are one step closer to solving the mystery of how many exomoons there could be and what they are like.

The researchers focused on the planets Uranus and Neptune in our solar system, ice giants with almost 20 times the mass of Earth but much smaller than Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus has a system with five major moons. Neptune, on the other hand has only one major, very heavy satellite, Triton.

"It is intriguing that these two very similar planets have completely different moon systems, indicating a very different formation history," explains Judit Szulagyi. The astrophysicists believe that Triton was captured by Neptune - a relatively rare event. But the moons of Uranus look more like Saturn's and Jupiter's systems that are thought to have originated in a gaseous disk around the planets at the end of their formation.

Simulations with Supercomputer
"So far it was believed that Uranus and Neptune are too light to form such a disk," says the astrophysicist. Therefore, it was considered that the moons of Uranus could have formed after a cosmic collision - like our own moon, also a relatively infrequent event as the capture. Now the researchers who are also members of the NCCR PlanetS were able to refute this previous idea.

Their extremely complex computer simulations reveal that in fact Uranus and Neptune were making their own gas-dust disk while they were still forming. The calculations generated icy moons in-situ, that are very similar in composition with the current Uranian satellites. From the simulations performed by the supercomputer called "Moench" at CSCS it is clear that Neptune originally also was orbited by a Uranus-like, multiple moon system, but this must have been wiped out during the capture of Triton.

The new study has a much wider impact on moons in general, than only on our solar system formation history. "If ice giants can also form their own satellites, that means that the population of moons in the universe is much more abundant than previously thought," summarizes Judit Szulagyi. Ice giants and mini-Neptune planets are often discovered by exoplanet surveys, so this planet mass category is very frequent. "We can therefore expect many more exomoon discoveries in the next decade," the astrophysicist says.

This finding is also extremely exciting in the view of searching for habitable worlds. In our solar system, the two main targets to search for extraterrestrial life are icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn: Europa and Enceladus. They both are thought to harbor liquid water oceans below their thick ice crust.

"Those under-surface oceans are obvious places where life as we know could potentially develop," says Judit Szulagyi: "So a much larger population of icy moons in the universe means more potentially habitable worlds out there than it was imagined so far. They will be excellent targets to search for life outside the solar system."

Research Report: "In Situ Formation of Icy Moons of Uranus and Neptune," Judit Szulagyi, Marco Cilibrasi and Lucio Mayer, 2018 Nov. 19, Astrophysical Journal Letters

Related Links
NCCR PlanetS
The million outer planets of a star called Sol

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

Evidence for ancient glaciation on Pluto
Mountain View CA (SPX) Nov 14, 2018
A letter authored by SETI Institute scientist Oliver White was published by Nature Astronomy today. Co-authors included researchers Jeff Moore, Tanguy Bertrand and Kimberly Ennico at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. The letter "Washboard and Fluted Terrains on Pluto as Evidence for Ancient Glaciation" focuses on these distinctive landscapes that border the vast nitrogen ice plains of Sputnik Planitia along its northwest margin (Figure 1) and which are amongst the most enigmatic landf ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

UK Space Agency funds new experiments onboard the International Space Station

Your own private space vacation

Crew assistant CIMON successfully completes first tasks in space

Space-inspired speed breeding for crop improvement

MIURA-1 will be launched from INTA's El Arenosillo Experimentation Center in 2019

Probing the Plume

SpaceX's Elon Musk renames his big rocket "Starship"

Rocket Lab announces $140 Million in new funding

Mars Moon Got Its Grooves from Rolling Stones

NASA picks ancient Martian river delta for 2020 rover touchdown

HP3 mole onboard NASA's InSight mission soon to land on Mars

What two planetary siblings can teach us about life

Evolving Chinese Space Ecosystem To Foster Innovative Environment

China sends 5 satellites into orbit via single rocket

China releases smart solution for verifying reliability of space equipment components

China unveils new 'Heavenly Palace' space station as ISS days numbered

Airbus to build new generation broadcast satellites to renew Eutelsat HOTBIRD fleet

Goonhilly partners with Airbus, other industry leaders and academics in proposed SmartSat CRC to drive Australia's space sector

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

Space technology company to set up high-volume production of ultra-powerful LEO satellite platforms

Laser communications technology from Tesat setting new records

Combination 3D Printer will recycle plastic in space

Treated superalloys demonstrate unprecedented heat resistance

New space industry emerges: on-orbit servicing

Researchers Are Perfecting Technology to Look for Signs of Alien Life

Study reveals one of universe's secret ingredients for life

What magnetic fields can tell us about life on other planets

Jumping genes shed light on how advanced life may have emerged

Evidence for ancient glaciation on Pluto

SwRI team makes breakthroughs studying Pluto orbiter mission

ALMA maps temperature of Jupiter's icy moon Europa

NASA's Juno Mission Detects Jupiter Wave Trains

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.