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Longevity of moons around habitable planets

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2014

Takashi Sasaki*
Department of Physics, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-0903, USA
Jason W. Barnes
Department of Physics, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-0903, USA


We consider tidal decay lifetimes for moons orbiting habitable extrasolar planets using the constant Q approach for tidal evolution theory. Large moons stabilize planetary obliquity in some cases, and it has been suggested that large moons are necessary for the evolution of complex life. We find that the Moon in the Sun–Earth system must have had an initial orbital period of not slower than 20 h rev−1 for the moon's lifetime to exceed a 5 Gyr lifetime. We assume that 5 Gyr is long enough for life on planets to evolve complex life. We show that moons of habitable planets cannot survive for more than 5 Gyr if the stellar mass is less than 0.55 and 0.42 M for Qp=10 and 100, respectively, where Qp is the planetary tidal dissipation quality factor. Kepler-62e and f are of particular interest because they are two actually known rocky planets in the habitable zone. Kepler-62e would need to be made of iron and have Qp=100 for its hypothetical moon to live for longer than 5 Gyr. A hypothetical moon of Kepler-62f, by contrast, may have a lifetime greater than 5 Gyr under several scenarios, and particularly for Qp=100.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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