“Avatar” takes place on a fictional moon called Pandora that orbits a fictional gas giant planet known as Polyphemus. That moon looks suspiciously like our planet Earth, and despite some minor differences in atmosphere, it’s able to sustain life. Believe it or not, the setting is one of the most plausible things about the “Avatar” films. In the popular imagination, space exploration’s goal is to find alien lifeforms on habitable planets. But according to Space.com, such discoveries could be just as if not more likely to occur on moons like Pandora or, if you’re a “Star Wars” fan, Endor.
For one thing, scientists believe there are many more moons than planets, not only in our own solar system (eight vs. 146, per NASA), but in the universe at large. Pandora is a Cameron creation, but the Alpha Centauri system in which it exists is real. One of its two stars, Alpha Centauri A, serves as Pandora’s sun and is similar to our own. Most of the planets we’ve identified and named thus far are gas giants, like Jupiter, that are too close to their stars to support life.
Their moons, however, could be like our Jupiter’s satellites: icy or rocky and closer to Earth’s size, potentially with atmospheres. With cutting edge astronomical technology, we might be able to probe and analyze those moons someday to see whether they’re home to water, oxygen, or carbon dioxide. Theoretically, a single gas giant in what NASA calls the Goldilocks zone could be orbited by multiple moons, each with its own unique landscapes, climates, and species.