An international team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside and the University of Southern Queensland has reportedly discovered 121 giant planets beyond the solar system that potentially have moons capable of supporting life. Each of the newly discovered planets is estimated to be more than three times the width of Earth.
The research team used data collected by NASA’s Kepler telescope to identify the planets. NASA’s 2009 launched Kepler telescope has helped in discovering thousands of exoplanets as of yet. The Kepler mission’s primary goal is to help astronomers locate planets outside the solar system that are in the habitable zones of their stars, meaning they have the right temperature range for liquid water and potentially life to exist.
Earth-like rocky planets are astronomers’ first choice for searching potentially habitable alien worlds, but recent studies inside the solar system have revealed that moons surrounding gas giants also have the potential of supporting life, perhaps even more favorable for life than Earth as they receive energy from their star as well as from radiation reflected from their planet.
Scientists believe that faraway gas giants within the habitable zone of their hosts’ stars may host moons, called exomoons, possessing all the ingredients needed for life. It is speculated that exomoons might provide a favorable environment for life to exist.
Stephen Kane, an associate professor at the University of California, said that there are currently 175 known moons orbiting the eight planets in our solar system. He added that most of these moons orbit Saturn and Jupiter, which are outside the Sun’s habitable zone. However, it may not be the case in other solar systems.
Kane explained that including rocky exomoons in search for life in space will greatly expand the scope of their research.
While no actual exomoons have yet been identified in the study, scientists believe that there’s a good chance that these exoplanets feature natural satellites. They are hopeful that the latest study findings will help in developing future telescopes that will help in detecting exomoons, study their properties, and look for signs of life.
The study findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.