Several news outlets are running a story about the likelihood of there being habitable moons like the one in the revolutionary movie Avatar. [As an aside, if you have the slightest interest in moviemaking, or just plain filmed entertainment, go and see Avatar on the biggest 3D screen you can find, preferably IMAX; it really does live up to the hype.] From Discovery News:
As James Cameron’s animated sci-fi movie Avatar goes on general release, astronomers point out that the movie’s habitable moon called “Pandora” may exist in reality.
Although none have been found to date, “exomoons” orbiting exoplanets are sure to exist. Could an exomoon be detected? If so, could that exomoon’s atmosphere be probed? Yes and yes, according to today’s announcement by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Mass.
Pandora is a fictional alien world 5 light-years away from Earth orbiting an exoplanet in the system of Alpha Centauri A. As detailed in an exclusive Discovery News interview with the visionary director of Avatar, Cameron has been very careful to base his creation on science fact (unlike some movies I won’t mention). The biology of Avatar’s alien creatures are no doubt impressive, but what about the planetary physics? Could an exomoon be habitable … even inhabited?
“If Pandora existed, we potentially could detect it and study its atmosphere in the next decade,” said CfA’s Lisa Kaltenegger.
Kaltenegger and her colleagues point out that all the gas giant planets in our solar system (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) have moons, and if these moons are large enough, they possess an atmosphere.
One example is Saturn’s large moon Titan that has a very thick atmosphere and — as the 2005 ESA Huygens mission discovered — a lot of the surface features are very Earth-like. It’s not a huge leap of the imagination to think that a larger rocky moon, orbiting a gas giant (a large Jupiter-like exoplanet) in another star system might have an exomoon with an atmosphere too…
[continues in Discovery News]