Bigger Moons Have Moons, And Some Are Calling Them 'Moonmoons'

Bigger Moons Have Moons, And Some Are Calling Them 'Moonmoons'

You'll never guess what scientists call the moons of moons - well, you probably would.

No known moons have a moonmoon, but Sean Raymond and Juna Kollmeier, the astronomers working on the paper titled "Can Moons Have Moons?" argue that the existence of such a moon is possible given the right conditions. According to the paper, what they found is that in most cases there's just not enough space for a submoon to orbit another moon.

That also means there needs to be enough distance between the moon and planet for the moonmoon not to be snared by the planet's gravity.

Could a moon actually have its own moon, orbiting around it, rather than around the planet? The study suggests a moon can indeed have a moon of its own.

Within the Solar System, four moons now meet that particular requirement: Earth's Moon, Jovian moon Callisto, and Titus and Iapetus in orbit around Saturn.

There are no known moonmoons in our Solar System, perhaps because the line they need to tread in order to exist is a very fine one. 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.

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While the pair's findings have only scratched the surface, Kollmeier hopes that it gets both little and big kids alike "psyched about submoons".

These names are just two of several other suggestions, though.

"IAU [International Astronomical Union] will have to decide!" Are there any moons orbiting larger moons?

Sarah Laskow at Atlas Obscura explains that moonmoon is catching on because there's something pleasing about "recursive places", like islands within islands, volcanoes within volcanoes and rivers running through a sea.

Her complex theory and its charming new phrase - moonmoon - are taking the Internet by storm this week. Laskow, for one, isn't voting for moonmoon. But she acknowledges that moonmoons may be in linguistic orbit for a while.

While natural disasters and dire climate change warnings and shady politics abound, thank the heavens (literally) we have moonmoons to distract us. Except they don't. So we might have to wait a bit before we can validate the theory.

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