Science

New Study Brings Old Meme About Moonmoons To Life

Moonmoons
Image credit: NASA

Have you ever wondered why everything in the universe is the way it is? Why do planets have moons? Are there any moons orbiting larger moons? This last question was the focus of a study which concluded that it is possible for moons to be orbiting bigger moons. Some scientists have decided such moons should be called “moonmoons,” and they believe there could even be some of them in our own solar system.

A four-year old child asked the question in 2015, and that sparked her mother’s curiosity. The girl’s mother happens to be an astronomer, and she and a colleague decided to conduct a study on the topic. They published a paper about their study on arXiv; the paper is now awaiting publication in other scientific journals. The study suggests a moon can indeed have a moon of its own.

Juna Kollmeir from the Carnegie Institution for Science told the Huffington Post that there are no moons in our solar system which have a moon of their own. However, they believe Earth’s moon, two of Saturn‘s, and one of Jupiter’s could have had a moon of their own once. So if there ever is/ was a moon orbiting a moon, then what should we call it?

Kollmeier and fellow astronomer Sean Raymond called it a “submoon” in their study. New Scientist decided to get creative with names and called them “moonmoons,” although there are different variations of the name, including moonitos, moonettes and moooons.

Nevertheless, the International Astronomical Union will have the final say about the name Kollmeir told Quartz .

The study suggests moonmoons are possible if the right conditions are met. For example, it is possible if there is a large moon and a small moon, and they are far enough from their host planet. When moons are too close to their host planets, there would be a risk of losing their moonmoons due to tidal and gravitational forces from the planet, which would tear the moonmoon apart.

“The internet is having a blast with the name which is A) totally unexpected, and B) super fun! People need a little fun,” Kollmeier told the Huffington Post.  “I am not casting my vote before consulting with my son Levi. He was the inspiration for the work and if he likes moonmoons or moonito or whatever; I have to back it!”

The two astronomers’ findings have only scratched the surface of this scientific discovery. Still, Kollmeier hopes both big and small children are attracted and “psyched about submoons.”

“I’m super excited about this – by doing calculations of possible submoon trajectories and comparing known architectures, we may learn a lot more about the solar system which is fantastic,” she said.

This study also drew the internet’s attention because of a 2014 meme about a stupid dog or wolf called Moon Moon.