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  • richardmitnick 12:43 pm on August 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Ganymede, , , Rocky Exomoons   

    From AAS NOVA: “Habitable Moons Instead of Habitable Planets?” 

    AASNOVA

    From AAS NOVA

    29 August 2018
    Susanna Kohler

    1
    Artist’s depiction of an Earth-like exomoon orbiting a gas-giant planet. [NASA/JPL-Caltech]

    One of the primary goals of exoplanet-hunting missions like Kepler is to discover Earth-like planets in their hosts’ habitable zones.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    But could there be other relevant worlds to look for? A new study has explored the possibility of habitable moons around giant planets.

    Seeking Rocky Worlds

    Since its launch, the Kepler mission has found hundreds of planet candidates within their hosts’ habitable zones — the regions where liquid water can exist on a planet surface. In the search for livable worlds beyond our solar system, it stands to reason that terrestrial, Earth-like planets are the best targets. But stand-alone planets aren’t the only type of rocky world out there!

    Many of the Kepler planet candidates found to lie in their hosts’ habitable zones are larger than three Earth radii. These giant planets, while unlikely to be good targets themselves in the search for habitable worlds, are potential hosts to large terrestrial satellites that would also exist in the habitable zone. In a new study led by Michelle Hill (University of Southern Queensland and University of New England, Australia; San Francisco State University), a team of scientists explores the occurrence rate of such moons.

    2
    Kepler has found more than 70 gas giants in their hosts’ habitable zones. These are shown in the plot above (green), binned according to the temperature distribution of their hosts and compared to the broader sample of Kepler planet candidates (grey). [Hill et al. 2018]

    A Giant-Planet Tally

    Hill and collaborators combine the known Kepler detections of giant planets located within their hosts’ optimistic habitable zones with calculated detection efficiencies that measure the likelihood that there are additional, similar planets that we’re missing. From this, the authors estimate the frequency with which we expect giant planets to occur in the habitable zones of different types of stars.

    The result: a frequency of 6.5 ± 1.9%, 11.5 ± 3.1%, and 6 ± 6% for giant planets lying in the habitable zones of G, K, and M stars, respectively. This is lower than the equivalent occurrence rate of habitable-zone terrestrial planets — which means that if the giant planets all host an average of one moon, habitable-zone rocky moons are less likely to exist than habitable-zone rocky planets. However, if each giant planet hosts more than one moon, the occurrence rates of moons in the habitable zone could quickly become larger than the rates of habitable-zone planets.

    3
    Distribution of the estimated planet–moon angular separation for known Kepler habitable-zone giant planets. Future missions would need to be able to resolve a separation between 1 and 90 microarcsec to detect potential moons. [Hill et al. 2018]

    Lessons from Our Solar System

    What can we learn from our own solar system? Of the ~185 moons known to orbit planets within our solar system, all but a few are in orbit around the gas giants. Jupiter, in particular, recently upped its tally to a whopping 79 moons! Gas giants therefore seem quite capable of hosting many moons.

    Could habitable-zone moons reasonably support life? Jupiter’s moon Io provides a good example of how radiative and tidal heating by the giant planet can warm a moon above the temperature of its surroundings. And Saturn’s satellite Ganymede demonstrates that large moons can even have their own magnetic fields, potentially shielding the moons’ atmospheres from their host planets.

    3
    NASA’s Galileo spacecraft acquired its highest resolution images of Jupiter’s moon Io on 3 July 1999 during its closest pass to Io since orbit insertion in late 1995. This color mosaic uses the near-infrared, green and violet filters (slightly more than the visible range) of the spacecraft’s camera and approximates what the human eye would see. Most of Io’s surface has pastel colors, punctuated by black, brown, green, orange, and red units near the active volcanic centers. A false color version of the mosaic has been created to enhance the contrast of the color variations.
    3 July 1999
    Source http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA02308
    Author NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

    4
    True color image of Ganymede, obtained by the Galileo spacecraft, with enhanced contrast.
    8 May 1998 (date of composite release); Galileo image taken on 26 June 1996.
    Source http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00716
    Author NASA/JPL (edited by PlanetUser)

    Overall, it seems that the terrestrial satellites of habitable-zone gas giants are a valuable target to consider in the ongoing search for habitable worlds. Hill and collaborators’ work goes on to discuss observational strategies for detecting such objects, providing hope that future observations will bring us closer to detecting habitable moons beyond our solar system.

    Citation

    “Exploring Kepler Giant Planets in the Habitable Zone,” Michelle L. Hill et al 2018 ApJ 860 67. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-4357/aac384/meta

    Related journal articles
    _________________________________________________
    See the full article for further references with links.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    1

    AAS Mission and Vision Statement

    The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

    The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.
    The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.
    The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.
    The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.
    The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

    Adopted June 7, 2009

     
  • richardmitnick 9:38 am on May 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ganymede, , ,   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “Old Data, New Tricks: Fresh Results from NASA’s Galileo Spacecraft 20 Years On” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 30, 2018
    Mara Johnson-Groh
    mara.johnson-groh@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    6
    Banner image: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has caught Jupiter’s moon Ganymede playing a game of “peek-a-boo.” In this crisp Hubble image, Ganymede is shown just before it ducks behind the giant planet. This color image was made from three images taken on April 9, 2007, with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in red, green, and blue filters. The image shows Jupiter and Ganymede in close to natural colors. Credit: NASA, ESA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

    1
    This image of Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons and the largest moon in our solar system, was taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Credits: NASA

    Far across the solar system, from where Earth appears merely as a pale blue dot, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years orbiting Jupiter.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    During that time, the hearty spacecraft — slightly larger than a full-grown giraffe — sent back spates of discoveries on the gas giant’s moons, including the observation of a magnetic environment around Ganymede that was distinct from Jupiter’s own magnetic field. The mission ended in 2003, but newly resurrected data from Galileo’s first flyby of Ganymede is yielding new insights about the moon’s environment — which is unlike any other in the solar system.

    “We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story,” said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a recent paper about Ganymede’s magnetosphere at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

    The new results showed a stormy scene: particles blasted off the moon’s icy surface as a result of incoming plasma rain, and strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to an explosive magnetic event occurring between the two bodies’ magnetic environments. Scientists think these observations could be key to unlocking the secrets of the moon, such as why Ganymede’s auroras are so bright.

    In 1996, shortly after arriving at Jupiter, Galileo made a surprising discovery: Ganymede had its own magnetic field.

    2
    Magnetosphere of Ganymede based on model of Xianzhe Jia (JGR, 113, 6212, 2008), with location of auroral emissions (in blue).

    While most planets in our solar system, including Earth, have magnetic environments — known as magnetospheres — no one expected a moon to have one.

    Between 1996 and 2000, Galileo made six targeted flybys of Ganymede, with multiple instruments collecting data on the moon’s magnetosphere. These included the spacecraft’s Plasma Subsystem, or PLS, which measured the density, temperature and direction of the plasma — excited, electrically charged gas — flowing through the environment around Galileo. New results, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal interesting details about the magnetosphere’s unique structure.

    We know that Earth’s magnetosphere — in addition to helping make compasses work and causing auroras — is key to in sustaining life on our planet, because it helps protect our planet from radiation coming from space.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    Some scientists think Earth’s magnetosphere was also essential for the initial development of life, as this harmful radiation can erode our atmosphere. Studying magnetospheres throughout the solar system not only helps scientists learn about the physical processes affecting this magnetic environment around Earth, it helps us understand the atmospheres around other potentially habitable worlds, both in our own solar system and beyond.

    3
    This infographic describes Ganymede’s magnetosphere.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

    Ganymede’s magnetosphere offers the chance to explore a unique magnetic environment located within the much larger magnetosphere of Jupiter. Nestled there, it’s protected from the solar wind, making its shape different from other magnetospheres in the solar system. Typically, magnetospheres are shaped by the pressure of supersonic solar wind particles flowing past them. But at Ganymede, the relatively slower-moving plasma around Jupiter sculpts the moon’s magnetosphere into a long horn-like shape that stretches ahead of the moon in the direction of its orbit.

    Flying past Ganymede, Galileo was continually pummeled by high-energy particles — a battering the moon is also familiar with. Plasma particles accelerated by the Jovian magnetosphere, continually rain down on Ganymede’s poles, where the magnetic field channels them toward the surface. The new analysis of Galileo PLS data showed plasma being blasted off the moon’s icy surface due to the incoming plasma rain.

    “There are these particles flying out from the polar regions, and they can tell us something about Ganymede’s atmosphere, which is very thin,” said Bill Paterson, a co-author of the study at NASA Goddard, who served on the Galileo PLS team during the mission. “It can also tell us about how Ganymede’s auroras form.”


    This visualization shows a simplified model of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, designed to illustrate the scale, and basic features of the structure and impacts of the magnetic axis (cyan arrow) offset from the planetary rotation axis (blue arrow). The semi-transparent gray mesh in the distance represents the boundary of the magnetosphere.
    Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/JPL NAIF

    4
    In this illustration, the moon Ganymede orbits the giant planet Jupiter. Ganymede is depicted with auroras, which were observed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
    Credits: NASA/ESA

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Ganymede has auroras, or northern and southern lights, just like Earth does. However, unlike our planet, the particles causing Ganymede’s auroras come from the plasma surrounding Jupiter, not the solar wind. When analyzing the data, the scientists noticed that during its first Ganymede flyby, Galileo fortuitously crossed right over Ganymede’s auroral regions, as evidenced by the ions it observed raining down onto the surface of the moon’s polar cap. By comparing the location where the falling ions were observed with data from Hubble, the scientists were able to pin down the precise location of the auroral zone, which will help them solve mysteries, such as what causes the auroras.

    As it cruised around Jupiter, Galileo also happened to fly right through an explosive event caused by the tangling and snapping of magnetic field lines. This event, called magnetic reconnection, occurs in magnetospheres across our solar system. For the first time, Galileo observed strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to a magnetic reconnection event occurring between the two magnetospheres. It’s thought that this plasma pump is responsible for making Ganymede’s auroras unusually bright.

    Future study of the PLS data from that encounter may yet provide new insights related to subsurface oceans previously determined to exist within the moon using data from both Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope.

    The research was funded by NASA’s Solar System Workings program and the Galileo mission managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    Related Links

    Learn more about NASA’s Galileo mission
    “NASA’s Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean on Jupiter’s Largest Moon” (March 12, 2015)

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
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