Avatar's life-bearing moon Pandora may exist in reality

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Washington, December 18 (ANI): Scientists have said that the alien life-bearing moon shown in the latest Hollywood flick 'Avatar', could exist in reality and could be detected and studied in the next decade.

Smithsonian astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger said that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) would be able to study the atmospheres of Pandora-like worlds and detect key gases like carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor.

"If Pandora existed, we potentially could detect it and study its atmosphere in the next decade," said Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

So far, planet searches have spotted hundreds of Jupiter-sized objects in a range of orbits.

Gas giants, while easier to detect, could not serve as homes for life as we know it.

However, scientists have speculated whether a rocky moon orbiting a gas giant could be life-friendly, if that planet orbited within the star's habitable zone.

"All of the gas giant planets in our solar system have rocky and icy moons," said Kaltenegger. "That raises the possibility that alien Jupiters will also have moons. Some of those may be Earth-sized and able to hold onto an atmosphere," she added.

Kepler looks for planets that cross in front of their host stars, which creates a mini-eclipse and dims the star by a small but detectable amount.

Such a transit lasts only hours and requires exact alignment of star and planet along our line of sight.

Kepler will examine thousands of stars to find a few with transiting worlds.

Once they have found an alien Jupiter, astronomers can look for orbiting moons, or exomoons.

Once a moon is found, the next obvious question would be: Does it have an atmosphere?

If it does, those gases will absorb a fraction of the star's light during the transit, leaving a tiny, telltale fingerprint to the atmosphere's composition.

The signal is strongest for large worlds with hot, puffy atmospheres, but an Earth-sized moon could be studied if conditions are just right.

Kaltenegger calculated what conditions are best for examining the atmospheres of alien moons.

She found that Alpha Centauri A, the system featured in Avatar, would be an excellent target.

"Alpha Centauri A is a bright, nearby star very similar to our Sun, so it gives us a strong signal," Kaltenegger explained.

"You would only need a handful of transits to find water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane on an Earth-like moon such as Pandora," she added.

"If the Avatar movie is right in its vision, we could characterize that moon with JWST in the near future," she said. (ANI)

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