Moon Explorations Around the Solar System



It is suitable that there is so much buzz around moons during the week that includes Star Wars day. Recent exploration and discovery of moons around the solar system are yielding new thoughts about life beyond Earth. The latest conversation is about a birth taking place 746 million miles away from Earth. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is sending back data on a possible new moon developing in Saturn’s orbit. Scientists have affectionately dubbed the fledgling moon “Peggy,” and cite that it is so tender and new that it is only about a half a mile in diameter.

Much like a human zygote, this tiny, barely perceptible development is wreaking a bit of havoc on the status quo. Peggy is located in the outer limits of Saturn’s spectacular ring system and is reportedly “messing” the ring and altering its appearance. NASA is hoping to confirm that Peggy is in fact a new moon being born and hopes to capture her first baby pictures by the end of 2016. This may be the first time a NASA exploration around the solar system has discovered the birth of a new moon. If Peggy is confirmed to be a satellite in the making, she will join 53 known siblings which are currently orbiting Saturn.

Meanwhile, Saturn’s giant neighbor Jupiter is also in the news this week for some captivating discoveries on one of its many icy moons, Ganymede. This is the largest known satellite in the whole solar system, and new research has generated a nickname of a “club sandwich” because of the many oceans that exist in layers. The exciting news is that some of the oceans in the deeper layers of this freezing giant are liquid, raising new theories about extraterrestrial life much farther from the sun than ever previously imagined.

Much of the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life has focused on Mars because of its proximity to the sun and the resulting potential to have liquid water on its surface. Countless explorations have revealed evidence of life, but most of it ancient.

This new discovery on Ganymede is not the first time data has revealed liquid oceans deep beneath the satellite’s surface. Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus and Titan also contain liquid oceans within their many layers. The oceans remain liquid despite freezing temperatures because of a gravitational pull which flexes and bends back and forth in a way that generates heat.

Other moon news this week presents some new theories raising eyebrows about whether a moon could support life in other solar systems. New research suggests that a celestial satellite located in a solar system with two suns has a better chance of hosting life. Astrophysicists with the University of Texas, El Paso are among the researchers that have devoted attention and research to solar systems with binary stars that act as sister suns, and how their behavior affects overall capacity for hosting extraterrestrial life, particularly on moons.

According to the research, one sun is volatile, producing scorching heat that hinders a planet’s chances of developing any kind of habitable zone as it comes into being. Binary stars work together though in a beautiful celestial symphony by synchronizing their orbits, and creating a “calming” effect that allows the moon(s) of a planet orbiting both suns to enjoy a potentially greater habitable zone.

There is of course a lot of research remaining as far as binary star systems go, such as the other factors that affect a moon’s ability to host life aside from proximity to the sun. Just like in our own solar system, mass of a planet and its moon(s) could factor into their relationship with the sun and course of their orbit, among other things. Recent moon explorations around the solar system and beyond are fascinating the science world, but as with any kind of space research, there are many mysteries that remain about whether there is other life out there.

By Erica Salcuni


LA Times