If We Want To Find Life-Supporting Worlds, We Should Focus on Small Planets With Large Moons

A rocky planet with a large moon may have good potential to host life, given that the Moon controls essential aspects for life on Earth, including the length of the day, ocean tides, and stable climate. Image Credit: University of Rochester photo illustration by Michael Osadciw featuring Unsplash photography from Brad Fickeisen, Jaanus Jagomagi, and Engin Akyurt

There’s no perfect way of doing anything, including searching for exoplanets. Every planet-hunting method has some type of bias. We’ve found most exoplanets using the transit method, which is biased toward larger planets. Larger planets closer to their stars block more light, meaning we detect large planets transiting in front of their stars more readily than we detect small ones.

That’s a problem because some research says that life-supporting planets are more likely to be small, like Earth. It’s all because of moons and streaming instability.

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How We Get Planets from Clumping Dust

This artist’s impression shows a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk, where dust grains gather together to form planetesimals—the building blocks of new planets. © ESO/L. Calçada

Our gleaming Earth, brimming with liquid water and swarming with life, began as all rocky planets do: dust. Somehow, mere dust can become a life-bearing planet given enough time and the right circumstances. But there are unanswered questions about how dust forms any rocky planet, let alone one that supports life.

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