Dr. Ignacio Mosqueira

December 21, 2006

SETI Institute Principal Investigator

When Galileo first discovered moons around Jupiter nearly four hundred years ago, he observed satellites with periodic, nearly circular orbits. Since then, says astronomer Ignacio Mosqueira, “the paradigm of satellite formation began to shift to a more random, catastrophic process.” When comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter a decade ago, astronomers and the lay public were presented with a dramatic image of worlds in flux. “The music of the spheres has given way to something more akin to planetary jazz,” says Mosqueira, “with order and structure existing side-by-side with chaos and happenstance.”


The implications may reach far beyond our solar system. “Suppose that what matters in planetary formation is not the size of things but the relative scale,” he suggests. “The scale of the Sun to the largest of the planets is similar to the scale of Jupiter to its largest moon.” By studying the formation of moons in our own solar system, Mosqueira is attempting to model the formation of planets around other stars. “What I’m looking at,” he explains, “is whether the process through which planetary satellites are formed is closely analogous to the process that forms planets themselves.”


- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005