Dynamical effects on the habitable zone for Earth-like exomoons

Duncan Forgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the detection of extrasolar moons (exomoons) on the horizon, it is important to consider their potential for habitability. If we consider the circumstellar habitable zone (HZ, often described in terms of planet semi-major axis and orbital eccentricity), we can ask, `How does the HZ for an Earth-like exomoon differ from the HZ for an Earth-like exoplanet?' For the first time, we use 1D latitudinal energy balance modelling to address this question. The model places an Earth-like exomoon in an orbit around a Jupiter mass planet, which in turn orbits a Sun-like star. The exomoon's surface is decomposed into latitudinal strips, and the temperature of each strip is evolved under the action of stellar insolation, atmospheric cooling, heat diffusion, eclipses of the star by the planet and tidal heating. We use this model to carry out two separate investigations. In the first investigation, four test cases are run to investigate in detail the dependence of the exomoon climate on the orbital direction, orbital inclination and the frequency of the stellar eclipse by the host planet. We find that lunar orbits which are retrograde to the planetary orbit exhibit greater climate variations than prograde orbits, with global mean temperatures around 0.1 K higher due to the geometry of eclipses. If eclipses become frequent relative to the atmospheric thermal inertia time-scale, climate oscillations become extremely small. In the second investigation, we carry out an extensive parameter study, running the model many times to study the habitability of the exomoon in the four-dimensional space composed of the planet semi-major axis and eccentricity, and the moon semi-major axis and eccentricity. We find that for zero moon eccentricity, frequent eclipses allow the moon to remain habitable in regions of high planet eccentricity, but tidal heating severely constrains habitability in the limit of high moon eccentricity, making the HZ a sensitive function of the moon semi-major axis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2994-3004
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013


  • astrobiology
  • methods: numerical
  • planets and satellites: general


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