It’s not often that a scientific paper breaks the internet. In truth, there’s very little exciting that goes on in scientific publications. The closest things we get are climate reports, but those usually end up terrifying people, not exciting them.
Enter a recent paper draft entitled “Can moons have moons?” Two scientists, Juna A. Kollmeier and Sean N. Raymond, attempted to answer the question. In their paper, though they acknowledge that there are no known moons that have satellites, “the absence of submoons around known moons and exomoons where submoons can survive provides important clues to the formation mechanisms and histories of these systems.” The authors pose that further study is needed to either confirm or deny the existence of such satellites.
While the concept of “submoons” is interesting enough, what really set the internet on fire, is the alternative name for satellites belonging to moons. In a paper discussing the newly discovered “Neptune size satellite” orbiting planet Kepler-16s5b, Duncan Forgan offers up the much more light-hearted and meme-worthy name, “moon-moon.”
Forgan writes, “I find that the candidate exomoon, Kepler-1625b-i, does not currently reside within the exomoon habitable zone, but may have done so when Kepler-1625 occupied the main sequence. If it were to possess its own moon (a “moon-moon”) that was Earthlike, this could potentially have been a habitable world.”
As the Twitterverse caught wind of this new phenomenon, users couldn’t help but tweet about it:
There are at least 17 poets who have been waiting their whole lives for the chance to name the moon of a moon and then scientists just mess around and call it a moonmoon. This is exactly why STEM fields need more arts and humanities education. https://t.co/zB2Xnp7VFo
— Danielle Evans (@daniellevalore) October 10, 2018
Maybe Chibi Moon shoulda been names Sailor Moonmoon
— Stephanie Sheh (@stephaniesheh) October 11, 2018
Your moonmoon name is your name + your name
— Rads (@FeelingEuphoric) October 11, 2018
While the jury is still out on whether or not moons can have moons of their own, “moon-moons” (which is really fun to say), this is a well worthwhile topic to study. As Kollmeier and Raymond conclude, further exploration into the existence of submoons can yield fruitful information regarding the origins and formation of planets and moons.
Despite the lack of any observed moon-moons in our solar system, Kollmeier and Raymond pose that it is possible given the right variables that Jupiter and Earth could both potentially play host to moon-moons orbiting their moons, “based solely on its orbital separation and inferred mass and size.”
Beyond spurring a flock of memes, this could potentially launch a whole new flurry of papers investigating the origins of moons and lead to some bold discoveries.