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Scientists Believe Moons have Moons

Scientists Believe Moons have Moons

Wednesday, 17 October, 2018 - 05:30
The moon shines in the night sky above the Dead Sea. (photo credit: REUTERS)
London - Asharq Al-Awsat
US Astronomers Sean Raymond and Juna Kollmeier told the New Scientist magazine that they’re happy with any of the following proposed terms: moonmoons, submoons, moonitos, moonettes, and moooons. The International Astronomical Union will have to decide, Kollmeier told Quartz.

The two scientists are currently working on a paper called “Can Moons Have Moons?” If you’ve never heard of a moonmoon, that’s because no one’s ever seen one before. But according to both scientists, that doesn’t mean that a small moon, orbiting a larger moon, which in turn orbits a planet, can’t exist.

Their analysis suggests that moonmoons are possible, under the right circumstances. If, for instance, the large moon is quite large, the small moon is quite small, and both are sufficiently far away from the host planet.

Moons that are too close to their planet risk losing their submoons to tidal forces from that planet, resulting in the submoon being shredded up, shot out into space, or sent careening and potentially crashing into their moon and its planet.

Seem implausibly specific? Not necessarily. Any of Saturn’s moons Titan and Iapetus, Jupiter’s moon Callisto, and Earth’s Moon could, theoretically, have a moonmoon, according to the researchers (though, of course, they don’t actually).

Though it might sound whimsical, the two astronomers believe there are good reasons to investigate this theoretical phenomenon further. Kollmeier told Gizmodo hope that studying moonmoons might reveal a few more clues about how planets and their moons were formed.

Since putting the paper up for feedback, the internet’s gone crazy for moonmoons, and it’s at least in part due to their wonderful name.

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