By Mike Wall, Senior Writer   |   February 03, 2014 06:28am ET
2013 Harvest Moon Over Maui, HI
Astrophotographer Mike Neal sent in a photo of the Harvest Moon taken on Sept. 18, 2013, in Maui, HI.
Credit: Mike Neal/

Alien planets without big, climate-stabilizing moons like the one that orbits Earth may still be capable of supporting life, a new study reports.

Previous modeling work had suggested that Earth’s axial tilt, or obliquity, would vary wildly over long time spans without the moon’s steadying gravitational influence, creating huge climate swings that would make it tough for life to get a foothold on our planet.

But that’s not necessarily the case, said Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Facts]

“If the Earth did not have a moon, its obliquity — and, therefore, its climate — would vary, indeed, substantially more than it does at present,” Lissauer said during a presentation in December at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. “But it’s nowhere near as bad as was predicted based on previous models.”

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