Habitable Zones & Global Climate

Exomoon Habitability and Tidal Evolution in Low-Mass Star Systems

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 24, 2017
Filed under
Exomoon Habitability and Tidal Evolution in Low-Mass Star Systems

Discoveries of extrasolar planets in the habitable zone (HZ) of their parent star lead to questions about the habitability of massive moons orbiting planets in the HZ. Around low-mass stars, the HZ is much closer to the star than for Sun-like stars.

For a planet-moon binary in such a HZ, the proximity of the star forces a close orbit for the moon to remain gravitationally bound to the planet. Under these conditions the effects of tidal heating, distortion torques, and stellar perturbations become important considerations for exomoon habitability.
Utilizing a model that considers both dynamical and tidal interactions simultaneously, we performed a computational investigation into exomoon evolution for systems in the HZ of low-mass stars (≲0.6 M⊙).

We show that dwarf stars with masses ≲0.2 M⊙ cannot host habitable exomoons within the stellar HZ due to extreme tidal heating in the moon. Perturbations from a central star may continue to have deleterious effects in the HZ up to ≈0.5 M⊙, depending on the host planet’s mass and its location in the HZ, amongst others.

In addition to heating concerns, torques due to tidal and spin distortion can lead to the relatively rapid inward spiraling of a moon.

Therefore, moons of giant planets in HZs around the most abundant type of star are unlikely to have habitable surfaces. In cases with lower intensity tidal heating the stellar perturbations may have a positive influence on exomoon habitability by promoting long-term heating and possibly extending the HZ for exomoons.

Rhett R. Zollinger (1), John C. Armstrong (2), René Heller (3) ((1) Southern Utah University, Cedar City UT (USA), (2) Weber State University, Ogden UT (USA), (3) Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen (GER))
(Submitted on 21 Jul 2017)

Comments: accepted by MNRAS, 20 pages, 8 figures in main text (7 col, 1 b/w)
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stx1861
Cite as: arXiv:1707.07040 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1707.07040v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Rhett Zollinger
[v1] Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:40:57 GMT (1447kb,D)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻