Image: Exomoon hunter David Kipping. Credit: CfA.

Exomoons: A Direct Imaging Possibility

It’s good to see that David Kipping’s work on exomoons is back in the popular press in the form of A Harvest of New Moons, an article in The Economist. Based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Kipping’s Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) culls Kepler data and massages the information, looking for the tug of large moons on transiting exoplanets. The basic method will by now be familiar to Centauri Dreams readers:

Dr Kipping’s technique relies on the fact that moons do not simply revolve around their host planets; planets also revolve around their moons—or, rather, the two bodies both revolve around their common centre of mass. If a planet is large and its moon small the distinction is trivial. But if the planet is small and the moon is large, it is not. In the case of Earth and its moon, for example, the common centre lies only around 1,700km (1,100 miles) beneath the Earth’s surface. Someone looking from afar at the movement of Earth would thus be able to deduce the moon’s existence without having to see it directly.

And as we’ve discussed in previous articles, the need for a large moon is significant. Kipping has recently reckoned that a moon about one-fifth as massive as the Earth should be in range of detection, but Ganymede, the biggest moon in our Solar System, is only 1/40th as massive. The first exomoon detected, then, will likely be a very large object, big enough that its signal won’t be masked by the presence of other planets in the same system. I’ve always had a fascination with exomoon studies and thus am looking forward to the first presentation and data analysis by the HEK team, slated to occur at the American Astronomical Society meeting in January.

But I want to focus in on something else in this article, namely the work of Mary Anne Peters and Edwin Turner, who have asked in a recent paper whether a large enough exomoon orbiting close enough to its planet (and far enough from its star) might produce an infrared signature detectable from Earth. Think Io, and ponder how tidal heating churns the insides of such a moon, creating heat-generating friction and, in the case of Io, active volcanoes.

Read more: Exomoons: A Direct Imaging Possibility — Centauri Dreams.

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