Distant Moons Orbiting Massive, Jupiter-like Planets May Support Life

First Posted: May 21, 2015 09:52 AM EDT

Could there be life on other worlds? Scientists believe that distant moons far beyond our galaxy hold the answer. They've modelled planetary systems beyond our solar system and have found that massive moons larger than Mars maybe the best chance for life.

In this latest study, the researchers used data from our own solar system and observations of huge planets beyond. This revealed that moons of some planets beyond our own solar system could be the right size and in the right position to be habitable.

"We could be just a few decades from proving if there is life elsewhere," said Rene Heller, one of the researchers, in a news release. "For all this time, we have been looking on other planets, when the answer could be on a moon."

Exoplanets that have been discovered are now in the thousands, and scientists are now seeing if any of them may potentially hold life. Many planets outside the solar system, though, are even more massive than Jupiter and they orbit their sun-like stars at an Earth-like distance. However, because these planets are gas giants, they lack solid surfaces and can't support life. Their moons, however, may have the right conditions for liquid water and, in consequence, life.

The researchers actually modelled the early life of Jupiter and found that there was a pattern of ice distribution on Jupiter's moons. This suggested that moons around the super-Jupiters of other solar systems may also have ice and, potentially, water.

The researchers hope to take a closer look at the data from NASA's Kepler space telescope to potentially find some of these large moons and study them more extensively. The new findings reveal that researchers shouldn't discount moons when hunting for life on other worlds.

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