September 3, 2009
Kepler Could Detect Habitable “˜Exomoons’
In March, NASA launched its Kepler telescope with the hopes of discovering an Earth-like planet that could be hospitable to extraterrestrial life.
However, one team of scientists has gone as far to say that the orbiting telescope will likely discover habitable "exomoons" as well.
Writing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr David Kipping and colleagues of University College London created a detailed method that scientists would need to follow while looking for exomoons.
However, many experts were unable to tell if the technology needed to detect these exomoons even existed.
Kipping's team created a model of Kepler's properties by simulating the signal strength that a habitable moon would create.
Kipping says that Kepler should be able to detect changes in the position of planets caused by an exomoon's gravitational pull.
The team says that Kepler would be able to detect habitable exomoons of down to 0.2 times the mass of Earth.
Kepler was created by NASA with a mission of surveying more than 100,000 stars over a period of three years. The powerful scope is designed to search for dips in the brightness of stars "“ an indication that another planet is orbiting around them.
"For the first time, we have demonstrated that potentially habitable moons up to hundreds of light years away may be detected with current instrumentation," said Kipping.
"As we ran the simulations, even we were surprised that moons as small as one-fifth of the Earth's mass could be spotted."
"It seems probable that many thousands, possibly millions, of habitable exomoons exist in the Galaxy and now we can start to look for them."
Image Courtesy Dan Durda
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