Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2009, scientists have uncovered thousands of distant exoplanets in the deep depths of space.
Scientists in California and Australia are now hoping to expand upon Kepler’s work with 121 planets potentially hosting life-supporting moons.
The key to finding a habitable exoplanet or moon is to find the stellar bodies within the so-called Goldilocks zone.
These are the ideal hotspots within a solar system where a planet’s atmospherics are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist.
And though the uncovered gas giants are not the ideal candidates to host alien life forms, their individual rocky moons are of interest.
Stephen Kane, University of California Riverside, said: “There are currently 175 known moons orbiting the eight planets in our solar system.
“While most of these moons orbit Saturn and Jupiter, which are outside the Sun’s habitable zone, that may not be the case in other solar systems
“Including rocky exomoons in our search for life in space will greatly expand the places we can look.”
The newly discovered worlds will be presented to the scientific community in the upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal.
Researchers from the University of California Riverside and the University of Southern Queensland hope to influence future space telescope designs with their findings.
The 121 planets all sit within habitable distances of their stars and each is expected to host varying amounts of large moons.
Michelle Hill, an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Queensland, said: “Now that we have created a database of the known giant planets in the habitable zone of their star, observations of the best candidates for hosting potential exomoons will be made to help refine the expected exomoon properties.
“Our follow-up studies will help inform future telescope design so that we can detect these moons, study their properties, and look for signs of life.”
The researchers hope the development of imaging technologies will make detecting exoplanets a simple task.
The study made use of the NASA Exoplanet Archive and the ExoFOP site, which are operated by the California Institute of Technology.
To date, the NASA archive lists a total of 3,730 confirmed exoplanets.