That’s no planet! It’s one to five moons.

Title: The Exomoon Corridor for Multiple Moon Systems

Authors: Alex Teachey

First Creator’s Establishment: Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taipei, Taiwan

Standing: Accepted for publication in Month-to-month Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

On Earth, we solely have one moon. Nonetheless, most photo voltaic system planets have many extra. From Mars’ 2 to Saturn’s 82 (recognized) moons, all planets exterior to Earth have multiple moons. However, what about planets orbiting different stars? If they’re something like these in our outer photo voltaic system, there could also be “exomoons” in methods all around the Galaxy and Universe! Within the seek for exoplanets, a number of exomoon candidates have been detected, however none are absolutely confirmed. In the present day’s paper takes a take a look at the “exomoon hall” as a instrument for locating these exomoons in single and a number of moon methods.

Detecting Exomoons

To seek out exomoons, the researchers study time-series photometry, which telescopes like Kepler and TESS use to search out transiting exoplanets. Exomoons could be detected in 3 completely different indicators within the star’s brightness because it adjustments over time, or its gentle curve:

  • Direct transit detection: A star’s obvious brightness decreases because the moon passes in entrance and blocks a portion of its gentle.
  • Transit timing variations (TTVs): A moon’s gravitational pull on a planet perturbs its orbit, inflicting transits to occur barely earlier or later than anticipated.
  • Transit period variations (TDVs): A moon’s gravitational pull on a planet perturbs its orbit, inflicting transits to final barely longer or shorter than anticipated.

Independently, certainly one of these three indicators isn’t essentially sufficient to show the presence of an exomoon. The detection of two or three of them could be convincing, however these indicators could be very troublesome to search out, as they’re fairly small results and can be attributable to different planets within the system.

Detecting exomoons by way of TTV has lately change into extra possible because of the “exomoon hall,” described by Kipping (2021), which demonstrates that roughly 50% of exomoons ought to induce TTVs with very brief intervals that planet-planet interactions hardly ever do. TTVs are noticed on the cadence of the planet’s orbital interval round its star, so we solely get one knowledge level per transit. A moon’s orbital interval round its planet will at all times be shorter than this. Because of this TTVs attributable to exomoons are at all times undersampled and seem within the knowledge as longer-period orbital aliases, typically between 2–4 occasions that of the planet round its star. 

Due to this, TTVs detected on this 2–4 cycle vary can rapidly be recognized as exomoon candidates. The arithmetic behind this methodology, nonetheless, are based mostly on the idea that the planet in query solely hosts one moon. In the present day’s paper explores whether or not the hall nonetheless applies to multi-moon methods.

Multi-moon methods

In the present day’s creator makes use of Rebound to mannequin numerous methods with N>1 moons to see whether or not their TTV intervals additionally sometimes fall into this hall. 150,000 completely different methods had been evaluated, with completely different planet plenty, moon mass ratios, numbers of moons (between 1–5), and orbital intervals. These methods are cut up into 3 units:

  1. Mounted host: Jupiter-mass planets orbiting Solar-like stars.
  2. Variable host: Host star plenty drawn randomly from Kepler planet methods and candidates, with randomly generated planet-star mass ratios.
  3. Resonant chain: Variable host planet-star system, with every moon system in a resonant-orbit chain.

Gravitational interactions can get sophisticated for multi-moon methods, and lots of of those generated might not be secure within the long-term. The extra moons concerned, the larger the prospect for destabilizing interactions, the place an object could also be ejected from the system or despatched into the planet’s Roche limit to be torn aside. The creator eradicated extremely unstable methods from the set, as these could be very short-lived and usually not present in actual observations. Stability fractions for the simulated methods are proven in Determine 1. The outcomes present that methods with low whole moon to planet mass ratios had been extra secure than methods with greater moon mass ratios. Increased mass ratios correspond to bigger, extra detectable TTVs, and since these are extra secure in low N methods, exomoon searches could also be biased towards discovering extra low N methods.

Heat maps of systems stability based on moon to planet mass ratios and N number of moons. Systems with fewer moons and lower moon mass are more stable than those with more moons and more moon mass.

Determine 1: Warmth maps of system stability with respect to moon-planet mass ratio and variety of moons. We see that methods with fewer moons and decrease mass ratios are usually extra secure in all three classes of simulated methods. (Determine 5 within the paper)

The creator then calculates observable TTV intervals for every of the remaining methods, with the distribution proven in Determine 2. We see a pile-up of short-period indicators for all 3 simulations units and all numbers of moons from 1 to five, indicating that the exomoon hall does certainly apply to multi-moon methods.

TTV histograms for each N from 1-5 and each of the 3 simulation sets. each shows a similar pile-up at short periods

Determine 2: TTV histograms for every set of simulations and variety of moons. All are extremely dominated by brief interval, exomoon corridor-range intervals. (Determine 9 within the paper)

What does this imply for the seek for exomoons?

To find out whether or not actual knowledge present proof for moons with this method, the creator examines completely different units of transit timing observations from Kepler. They discovered a pile-up of brief interval TTVs in methods with just one recognized planet, methods with a number of planets, and methods with TTVs that would plausibly be defined by moons (as decided by previous work). This pile-up was not present in a pattern of TTV intervals for methods with confirmed planet-planet interactions, nor within the set of TTVs which couldn’t be plausibly defined by exomoons. The outcomes are in step with the presence of moons in Kepler TTV knowledge, however the creator cautions towards deciphering this as definitive proof of such moons.

In the end, whereas some challenges stay in using the exomoon hall methodology, it appears to use to planets with 2–5 moons because it does with single moons. The vast majority of planets in our photo voltaic system have a number of moons (typically >5), so the flexibility to characterize these multi-moon methods could also be important to greedy the complete image of exoplanets and their moons.

Astrobite edited by Suchitra Narayanan

Featured picture credit score: NASA/ESA/L. Hustak (STScI)

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That’s no planet! It’s one to five moons.


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