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Habitable moons 'could be spotted by 2014'


An imaginary view of Exomoons. Image credit : NASA

LONDON (PTI): British astronomers have claimed that thousands of moons capable of supporting life, like those shown in the popular Star Wars' flicks, could be scattered all over our galaxy, and are likely to be spotted by 2014.

A team at University College London hopes to track the habitable moons within the next five years, using a telescope launched by US space agency Nasa earlier this year to hunt out other planets.

According to lead astronomer Dr David Kipping, there are more than 12,500 stars within sight of Nasa's Kepler Space Telescope that have the potential for moons orbiting in areas of space where conditions could be favourable to life.

In fact, they have devised a new method for detecting moons in other solar systems -- known as exomoons.

"For the first time, we have demonstrated that potentially habitable moons up to hundreds of light years away may be detected with current instrumentation. As we ran the simulations, even we were surprised that moons as small as one-fifth of the Earth's mass could be spotted.

"It seems probable that many thousands, possibly millions, of habitable exomoons exist in the Galaxy and now we can start to look for them," 'The Daily Telegraph' quoted Dr Kipping as saying.

The Kepler Space Telescope, launched by Nasa in March this year, will spend the next three and a half years scouring the skies for Earth-sized, rocky planets that contain water and so could support life.

But Dr Kipping said it would also be possible to use Kepler to spot moons orbiting other planets by looking for tiny wobbles in their orbit. By analysing the light reflected from such planets they hope to discover what chemicals are present on the surface, including water.

Team member Dr Ignasi Ribas of the Institute d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya in Spain was quoted as saying: "The prospects we have in coming years to find habitable planets and, even more, characterise them and look for signatures of biological activity are just mind boggling.

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