From University of Concepción [Universidad de Concepción] (CL) via Science Alert (AU) : “Rogue Exoplanets Lurking in Space Could Have Habitable Moons Scientists Say”

From University of Concepción [Universidad de Concepción] (CL)



Science Alert (AU)

12 JUNE 2021

Artist’s impression of a potentially habitable exomoon. (Tommaso Grassi/LMU)

It’s hard to tell what’s lurking out there, in the dark voids between the stars.

Evidence, however, suggests the existence of a vast population of rogue exoplanets, set adrift and tethered to no star. Far from the live-giving warmth a star provides, these lonely exoplanets are unlikely to be habitable.

Their moons might be another story.

According to new mathematical modeling, some of those moons – at least, those with very specific conditions – could potentially harbor both atmospheres and liquid water, thanks to a combination of cosmic radiation and the tidal forces exerted on the moon by the gravitational interaction with its planet.

While it’s difficult to catalog exoplanets in general, never mind exoplanets unattached to a star, surveys have identified candidates by studying the gravitational effect these exoplanets should have on distant starlight.

Estimates from these surveys suggest there may be at least one rogue Jupiter-sized gas giant exoplanet for every star in the Milky Way.

If so, that’s at least 100 billion rogue exoplanets – and previous research found that at least some of these rogue exoplanets could have been yeeted out of their home system along with an exomoon. (We’ve not yet conclusively detected an exomoon, but given the preponderance of moons within the Solar System, the existence of exomoons is all but certain.)

Here on Earth, most life relies upon a food web resting on a foundation of photosynthesis – that is, it absolutely requires the light and heat of the Sun. This heat is also what helps keep the water on Earth’s surface liquid – a prerequisite for life as we know it.

Yet, out beyond the Solar System’s frost line, where liquid water is expected to freeze, there are places where it can still be found. These are the ice moons Ganymede and Europa, in orbit around Jupiter, and Enceladus, in Saturnian orbit.

Although encased in thick shells of ice, these moons harbor liquid oceans below their surfaces, thought to be kept from freezing by internal heat generated by the stretching and squeezing exerted by the planets’ gravitational field as the moons orbit.

Thus, it’s thought that Europa and Enceladus might harbor life. Although shielded from sunlight, there is a type of ecosystem here on Earth that doesn’t rely on the photosynthetic food web – the hydrothermal vents, where heat and chemicals escape from Earth’s interior, into the bottom of the ocean.

Around these vents, bacteria that harness energy from chemical reactions thrive; on those bacteria, other organisms can feed, building a whole new food web that doesn’t involve sunlight at all.

So, a team of scientists led by astronomer Patricio Javier Ávila of the University of Concepción in Chile sought to model the possibility of such exomoons existing around rogue gas giant exoplanets.

Specifically, an exoplanet the mass of Jupiter, hosting an exomoon the mass of Earth with an atmosphere that’s 90 percent carbon dioxide and 10 percent hydrogen, over the system’s evolutionary history.

Their findings suggest that a significant amount of water can be formed in the exomoon’s atmosphere, and retained in liquid form.

Cosmic radiation would be the main driver of chemical kinematics to convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide into water. This would produce 10,000 times less water than Earth’s oceans, but 100 times more than the atmosphere – that, the researchers said, would be sufficient for life.

Tidal forces from the exoplanet’s gravity would then generate much of the heat required to keep the water liquid. Even more heat could be contributed by carbon dioxide in the exomoon’s atmosphere, which could create a greenhouse effect to also help keep the world temperate.

“The presence of water on the surface of the exomoon, affected by the capability of the atmosphere to keep a temperature above the melting point, might favor the development of prebiotic chemistry,” the researchers wrote in their paper [International Journal of Astrobiology].

“Under these conditions, if the orbital parameters are stable to guarantee a constant tidal heating, once water is formed, it remains liquid over the entire system evolution, and therefore providing favorable conditions for the emergence of life.”

See the full article here.


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University of Concepción [Universidad de Concepción] (CL) is a traditional Chilean private university, the work of the Penquista community, one of the most traditional and prestigious in its country, considered complex due to its extensive research in the various areas of knowledge. Founded on May 14, 1919, it is the third oldest university in Chile, and one of the 25 universities belonging to the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities [Universidad Católica del Norte] (CL).

Its headquarters are located in the city of Concepción, and also has two other campuses in Chillán and Los Ángeles. In a citizen survey carried out in 2012, it was chosen as the symbol that most identifies Penquists.

It was the first University created in the center-south zone of the country, besides being the 1st to be constituted as a private law corporation and belong to the Cruz del Sur University Network; it also belongs to the G9 University Network. The University of Concepción also had a pioneering role in the reform movement of Chilean universities that took place at the end of the 1960s. It was the first Chilean university that approved the University Reform in that period (1968), giving greater participation to students in university management.

Its main promoter was Chilean educator and lawyer Enrique Molina Garmendia, who sought to create the 1st secular university in Chile. As part of its educational line, the University of Concepción devotes a large part of its budget to academic research. It has in its facilities the most complete museum of Chilean art in the country, several sports centers and a network of 11 libraries, the main one occupying an area of 10,000 m² with a total of 100,000 volumes.

By 2012, the total number of graduates of this house of studies amounted to 57,000. It also teaches 23,700 students, 2,166 of them graduate programs; 72% of its professors have doctorates or master’s degrees and its infrastructure, with 243,556 m² built, is one of the largest in Chile.

It is currently accredited by the National Accreditation Commission (CNA-Chile) for the maximum period of 7 years (of a maximum of 7), from November 2016 to November 2023. Figure in the third position within the Chilean universities according to the webometric classification of the CSIC (July 2017) and in the third position according to the AméricaEconomía 2017 ranking as well as national and international rankings. Within the Chilean universities, it is also among the 11 that figure in the QS 2017 world university ranking, among the 10 that appear in the Times Higher Education 2017 ranking, and among the 25 that appear in the ranking of Scimago Institution Rankings (SIR) 2017, with the 3rd position nationally and 572th worldwide.

Its Concepción campus was declared a National Heritage in 2016 by the Council of National Monuments of Chile; what makes it the 1st and only University in Chile to have this recognition due to the design and architectural style of its environment that has been implemented in its buildings and campus-level environment since its foundation; the proclamation grants the university special protection and conservation of the campus and its space by the state; therefore, any intervention to the same has to be reported to the Council of Monuments, while any damage and type of vandalism that jeopardizes the integrity and security of the campus will be seriously penalized according to the law that regulates and covers the National Monuments, as well as the prompt construction of the 1st and only Bío Bío Technological Science Park (PACYT) in all of Chile located in the Bío-Bío Region, near the campus of the Universidad de Concepción; which at the same time will be in charge of the administration, organization, and projection of new ideas with a view to the future of it together with the Government of Chile; this initiative is going to be projected as a productive space of the future and a relevant pole of the development of the country, the place where all the creative potential will be housed, knowledge and innovations of high impact will be generated.

Schools and Departments

The University of Concepción is made up of 19 schools and departments:

Department of Agronomy.
Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Geography.
Department of Biological Sciences.
School of Economics and Business Administration.
Department of Physical Sciences and Mathematics.
Department of Forestry.
School of Law and Social Sciences.
Department of Natural and Oceanographic Sciences.
Department of Chemical Sciences.
Department of Nursing.
Department of Social Sciences.
School of Veterinary Science.
School of Education.
Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry.
School of Humanities and Arts.
Department of Engineering.
Department of Agricultural Engineering.
School of Medicine.
School of Dentistry.
School of Pharmacy.
School of Environmental Sciences