It is a query you may effectively have requested your self while gazing up on the night time sky: May Earth help extra moons like the Moon? Or would the gravitational forces concerned pull our planet out of its secure trajectory?
The reply, in accordance with a brand new examine, is that Earth might help two extra Moon-sized moons, and much more in the event that they had been smaller. That is based mostly on detailed physics simulations masking a interval of three,000 years.
It is an attention-grabbing hypothetical to discover, however there is a sensible function to the analysis too: it might assist astronomers in determining how Earth shaped, and find different Earth-like planets (and their moons) out within the wider Universe.
“From this work, the dynamical stability of moon methods limits the existence of exomoons for Earth-analogs of their respective liveable zones, the place affirmation from future observations are wanted,” write the researchers of their revealed paper.
The simulations run by the crew had been constrained by the distances between the hypothetical moons and Earth, and between the moons themselves. A cautious stability is required to stop a moon from drifting off into house or crashing into the planet that it is orbiting.
Three totally different moon sizes had been analyzed too: one with the mass of our Moon, one with the mass of Pluto (a few sixth the dimensions of the Moon), and one with the mass of the dwarf planet Ceres (a few hundredth the dimensions of the Moon).
Primarily based on the simulations, Earth can help as much as three moons the dimensions of our present Moon, as much as 4 Pluto-sized moons, and as much as seven Ceres-sized moons – assuming that they are all the identical measurement, which they most likely would not be.
“Not all of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn have the identical measurement, so we will count on that a number of moons may have totally different sizes, and to have absolutely the reply we would want to incorporate that,” physicist Suman Satyal, from the College of Texas at Arlington, informed New Scientist.
Jupiter and Saturn every have dozens of moons whereas Mercury and Venus haven’t any, which scientists suppose might be due to the other ways during which these planets shaped and their totally different positions within the Photo voltaic System.
Earth and Earth-like worlds elsewhere within the Universe might probably help greater than seven moons in the event that they had been of various measurement, the researchers say. That, nevertheless, is past the scope of the present examine, as was the gravitational pull from planets.
“Our mannequin ignores the gravitational results of all the opposite planets throughout the Photo voltaic System,” stated Billy Quarles, a physicist from the College of Texas Arlington.
“That is vital after we look past the Photo voltaic System as a result of there are a lot of methods with solely a single planet candidate. There are presently two exomoon candidates, however they each orbit Jupiter-like planets at about one astronomical unit,” which is roughly 150 million kilometers (93 million miles).
Extra moons round Earth would have definitely made the night time sky extra attention-grabbing. They would want to orbit at totally different distances from Earth for this to work, during which case they would seem within the sky to be in a different way sized – and could be in numerous phases (resembling full or crescent) too.
“Many movies illustrate the opportunity of exomoons, resembling Pandora from Avatar, or the forest moon Endor from Star Wars,” stated Quarles.
“Our examine might assist future works seem extra astronomically correct.”
The analysis has been revealed within the Month-to-month Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.