Feeds

Moon makes us extra special, scientists say

Moon-forming collisions very rare

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Having a moon like ours makes us very special, cosmically speaking. This is according to proper scientists at the Universities of Arizona and Florida (as opposed to Mystic Meg), who've been searching the universe with the Spitzer space telescope for other planetary systems like ours.

The Earth-Moon system is a rarity in the universe. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Earth-Moon system is a rarity in the universe.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team has concluded that satellites created by an enormous collision (as the moon was) probably only turn up in between five to ten per cent of planetary systems.

"When a moon forms from a violent collision, dust should be blasted everywhere," said Nadya Gorlova of the University of Florida, lead author of a study published in the November 20 edition of the Astrophysical Journal. "If there were lots of moons forming, we would have seen dust around lots of stars - but we didn't."

The team went hunting among stars that are of a similar age to our own sun when the moon formed. After scanning 400 of these, they found only one system was immersed in dust. They then factored in the probable span of any "moon forming" period, and calculated that the best chance of a given solar system forming a moon like ours was between five and ten per cent.

Making planets produces large quantities of dust, since worlds are built up from huge collisions, like the one that formed our moon. For only one system in 400 to have any observable dust suggests that by the age of 30 million years, most systems have finished making their planets.

Younger star systems swirling in dust are likely in the process of forming their planets, Gorlova said. But the rarity of a system being dusty at 30 million years old actually reinforces the idea that something unusual has occurred. If all the other systems have made their planets and settled down, something else might be going on in the anomalous system.

The team also concedes that the dust they have observed doesn't indicate that a moon is actually forming. "We don't know that the collision we witnessed around the one star is definitely going to produce a moon, so moon-forming events could be much less frequent than our calculation suggests," said George Rieke of the University of Arizona, a co-author of the study.

Our moon is given credit for a lot: some suggest that the tides is caused have helped us (well, not us, but life more generally) emerge from the sea. Others have argued that the coincidence of its relative size matching that of the sun is vital to the development of science. they suggest that solar eclipses helped direct humanities attention to the skies, and kick-started our process of understanding the physical world we inhabit. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.