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Earth's moon is vitally important in making Earth the planet we know today: the moon controls the length of the day and ocean tides, which affect the biological cycles of lifeforms on our planet. The moon also contributes to Earth's climate by stabilizing Earth's spin axis, offering an ideal environment for life to develop and evolve.

Because the moon is so important to life on Earth, scientists conjecture that a moon may be a potentially beneficial feature in harboring life on other planets. Most planets have moons, but Earth's moon is distinct in that it is large compared to the size of Earth; the moon's radius is larger than a quarter of Earth's radius, a much larger ratio than most moons to their planets.

Miki Nakajima, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, finds that distinction significant. And in a new study that she led, published in Nature Communications, she and her colleagues at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona examine moon formations and conclude that only certain types of planets can form moons that are large in respect to their host planets.

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