What is the Maximum Number of Moons that Earth Could Have?

In a recent study published in Earth and Planetary Astrophysics, a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington, Valdosta State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory estimated how many moons could theoretically orbit the Earth while maintaining present conditions such as orbital stability. This study opens the potential for better understanding planetary formation processes which could also be applied to identifying exomoons possibly orbiting Earth-like exoplanets, as well.

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ESA's Juice Mission is Fully Integrated and Ready for Testing. Soon it'll fly to Space on a Mission to Jupiter's Moons

Artist's impression of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) near Jupiter and one of its moons, Europa. Credit: ESA/AOES

Now less than one year until the projected launch date, ESA’s JUICE mission is in the final phases of development. The JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) is now fully built with all ten instruments integrated into the spacecraft bus. Next comes all-up testing in a full flight configuration.

Launch is currently scheduled for April of 2023, with the mission slated to conduct detailed investigations of Jupiter and its system of moons, focusing on Europa, Callisto and especially Ganymede.

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The Europa Clipper is Coming Together, Launching in 2024

Clockwise from left: the propulsion module for NASA’s Europa Clipper, the ultraviolet spectrograph (called Europa-UVS), the high-gain antenna, and an illustration of the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech / Johns Hopkins APL

Who is excited to send a spacecraft to Europa? Every person I’ve talked to who is even remotely interested in planetary exploration is incredibly enthusiastic about the upcoming Europa Clipper mission to explore Jupiter’s icy moon. With strong evidence of a subsurface liquid ocean, Europa is considered by many to be the most likely place in our Solar System – besides Earth — which might harbor life. The many mysteries about this moon make it a compelling place to explore.

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A Moon Might Have Been Found Orbiting an Exoplanet

An artist's illustration of the Kepler 1625 system. The star in the distance is called Kepler 1625. The gas giant is Kepler 1625B, and the exomoon orbiting it is unnamed. The moon is about as big as Neptune, but is a gas moon. Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak (STScI)
An artist's illustration of the Kepler 1625 system. The star in the distance is called Kepler 1625. The gas giant is Kepler 1625B, and the exomoon orbiting it is unnamed. The moon is about as big as Neptune, but is a gas moon. Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak (STScI)

In the past three decades, the field of extrasolar planet studies has advanced by leaps and bounds. To date, 4,903 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,677 planetary systems, with another 8,414 candidates awaiting confirmation. The diverse nature of these planets, ranging from Super-Jupiters and Super-Earths to Mini-Neptunes and Water Worlds, has raised many questions about the nature of planet formation and evolution. A rather important question is the role and commonality of natural satellites, aka. “exomoons.”

Given the number of moons in the Solar System, it is entirely reasonable to assume that moons are ubiquitous in our galaxy. Unfortunately, despite thousands of know exoplanets, there are still no confirmed exomoons available for study. But thanks to Columbia University’s Professor David Kipping and an international team of astronomers, that may have changed. In a recent NASA-supported study, Kipping and his colleagues report on the possible discovery of an exomoon they found while examining data from the Kepler Space Telescope.

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Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all?

Illustration of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites. Credit: NASA

The Solar System’s moons are intriguing objects for exploration. Especially moons like Europa and Enceladus. Their subsurface oceans make them primary targets in the search for life.

But why not send one spacecraft to visit several moons? NASA’s about to launch its Lucy mission which will visit 8 separate asteroids. Could the same be done for a mission to multiple moons?

For a spacecraft to do that, it would have to do a little dance with the notorious three-body problem, which makes a stubborn partner. A new study presents a possible way to do that.

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Japan’s Mission to Phobos Will Also Bring a Sample Home by 2029

Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons, with the Stickney crater seen on the right side. Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is gearing up for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, with plans to have a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos return to Earth by 2029.  Mission scientists say they hope to find clues to the origins of Mars two moons, as well as Mars itself, and possibly even traces of past life.

“We think that the Martian moon, Phobos, is loaded with material lifted from Mars during meteorite impacts,” the MMX team said on Twitter. “By collecting this Phobos sample, MMX will help investigate traces of Martian life and the new era of Martian habitability exploration in the 2020s will begin.”

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Finally! New Pictures of Ganymede, Thanks to Juno

Ganymede seen by JunoCam. The image is derived from a raw PJ34 JunoCam image, decompanded and stretched in a linear way in order to remove dark and to improve contrast moderately. Credit : NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt.

Well, hello there old friend! This week the Juno mission to the Jupiter system made the first close flyby of Jupiter’s giant moon Ganymede, and as you might guess, the images are spectacular. This is the first time we’ve seen a close-up view of the Solar System’s largest moon since the Galileo mission 20 years ago. Voyager gave us the first views of Ganymede 40 years ago.  Now, planetary scientists will be able observe any changes in Ganymede’s surface over time.

But first, the image editing gurus back on Earth are having a go at the raw images sent back by Juno. Our lead image comes from Gerald Eichstädt, who worked his magic to bring out the details of Ganymede, and it’s a stunner.

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Uranus’ Moons are Surprisingly Similar to Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt

Ö. H. Detre et al./MPIA

Astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus—and two of its moons—230 years ago. Now a group of astronomers working with data from the telescope that bears his name, the Herschel Space Observatory, have made an unexpected discovery. It looks like Uranus’ moons bear a striking similarity to icy dwarf planets.

The Herschel Space Observatory has been retired since 2013. But all of its data is still of interest to researchers. This discovery was a happy accident, resulting from tests on data from the observatory’s camera detector. Uranus is a very bright infrared energy source, and the team was measuring the influence of very bright infrared objects on the camera.

The images of the moons were discovered by accident.

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A Huge Ring-Like Structure on Ganymede Might be the Result of an Enormous Impact

Depiction of Ganymede centered over 45° W. longitude; dark areas are Perrine (upper) and Nicholson (lower) regiones; prominent craters are Tros (upper right) and Cisti (lower left). Image Credit: By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - http://sos.noaa.gov/download/dataset_table.html (archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20111028055701/http://sos.noaa.gov/images/fullsize/Solar_System/ganymede.jpg within https://web.archive.org/web/20120301030706/http://sos.noaa.gov/download/dataset_table.html), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8070396

Ganymede’s surface is a bit of a puzzle for planetary scientists. About two-thirds of its surface is covered in lighter terrain, while the remainder is darker. Both types of terrain are ancient, with the lighter portion being slightly younger. The two types of terrain are spread around the moon, and the darker terrain contains concurrent furrows.

For the most part, scientists think that the furrows were caused by tectonic activity, possibly related to tidal heating as the moon went through unstable orbital resonances in the past.

But a new study says that a massive impact might be responsible for all those furrows.

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A Picture of Earth’s New Temporary Moon

Gemini Observatory image of 2020 CD3 (center, point source) obtained with the 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea on February 24, 2020. Credit: The international Gemini Observatory/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA

With the excitement and interest in the newly discovered ‘mini-moon’ found orbiting Earth, astronomers quickly set their sights on trying to get more details, to determine what this object actually is.

Using the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, a group of astronomers captured a clearer view of this so-called Temporarily Captured Object (TCO), named 2020 CD3. The image, above, was obtained on February 24, 2020. It shows a tiny pinpoint of light against trailing stars.

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