Exomoon habitability constrained by energy flux and orbital stability
Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), An der Sternwarte 16, 14482 Potsdam, Germany
Received: 13 July 2012
Accepted: 30 August 2012
Context. Detecting massive satellites that orbit extrasolar planets has now become feasible, which led naturally to questions about the habitability of exomoons. In a previous study we presented constraints on the habitability of moons from stellar and planetary illumination as well as from tidal heating.
Aims. Here I refine our model by including the effect of eclipses on the orbit-averaged illumination. I then apply an analytic approximation for the Hill stability of a satellite to identify the range of stellar and planetary masses in which moons can be habitable. Moons in low-mass stellar systems must orbit their planet very closely to remain bounded, which puts them at risk of strong tidal heating.
Methods. I first describe the effect of eclipses on the stellar illumination of satellites. Then I calculate the orbit-averaged energy flux, which includes illumination from the planet and tidal heating to parametrize exomoon habitability as a function of stellar mass, planetary mass, and planet-moon orbital eccentricity. The habitability limit is defined by a scaling relation at which a moon loses its water by the runaway greenhouse process. As a working hypothesis, orbital stability is assumed if the moon’s orbital period is less than 1/9 of the planet’s orbital period.
Results. Due to eclipses, a satellite in a close orbit can experience a reduction in orbit-averaged stellar flux by up to about 6%. The smaller the semi-major axis and the lower the inclination of the moon’s orbit, the stronger the reduction. I find a lower mass limit of ≈ 0.2 M⊙ for exomoon host stars that allows a moon to receive an orbit-averaged stellar flux comparable to the Earth’s, with which it can also avoid the runaway greenhouse effect. Precise estimates depend on the satellite’s orbital eccentricity. Deleterious effects on exomoon habitability may occur up to ≈ 0.5 M⊙ if the satellite’s eccentricity is ≳ 0.05.
Conclusions. Although the traditional habitable zone lies close to low-mass stars, which allows for many transits of planet-moon binaries within a given observation cycle, resources should not be spent to trace habitable satellites around them. Gravitational perturbations by the close star, another planet, or another satellite induce eccentricities that likely make any moon uninhabitable. Estimates for individual systems require dynamical simulations that include perturbations among all bodies and tidal heating in the satellite.
Key words: astrobiology / celestial mechanics / eclipses / planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability
© ESO, 2012