Large planets may not form fractionally large moons
One of the unique aspects of Earth is that it has a fractionally large Moon, which is thought to have formed from a Moon-forming disk generated by a giant impact. The Moon stabilizes the Earth's spin axis at least by several degrees and contributes to Earth's stable climate. Given that impacts are common during planet formation, exomoons, which are moons around planets in extrasolar systems, should be common as well, but no exomoon has been confirmed. Here we propose that an initially vapor-rich moon-forming disk is not capable of forming a moon that is large with respect to the size of the planet because growing moonlets, which are building blocks of a moon, experience strong gas drag and quickly fall toward the planet. Our impact simulations show that terrestrial and icy planets that are larger than ~1.3−1.6R⊕ produce entirely vapor disks, which fail to form a fractionally large moon. This indicates that (1) our model supports the Moon-formation models that produce vapor-poor disks and (2) rocky and icy exoplanets whose radii are smaller than ~1.6R⊕ are ideal candidates for hosting fractionally large exomoons.
- Pub Date:
- February 2022