Boffins 'discover first moon outside our solar system'

Jan Cross
October 6, 2018

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have found the first compelling evidence for a Neptune-sized moon orbiting a giant gas planet 8,000 light-years away.

The new moon is bigger than any of the nearly 200 natural satellites that have been found in our own solar system and it has been discovered when the researchers monitored exoplanet Kepler-1625b as it was passing in front of its parent star.

Astronomers may have just found the very first moon outside of our solar system.

Astronomers David Kipping, from Columbia University in NY and Alex Teachey are reporting and publishing the results Science Advances journal observing all the hypothesis and anomalies, comparing the data they have other planets in the system or stellar activity but they still can not explain the new discovery.

There are many theories about planetary formation but a recent one suggests that object are unlikely to form themselves in place with their Jupiter-mass planets, but instead they can be captured by the gravity of the planet later on in the evolution of a planetary system. Researchers from the US-based Columbia University said that such a huge moon is not in our own solar system, but such 200 natural satellites have been listed.

The celestial object has a diameter of about 49,000 km, more than nine times the size of Jupiter's Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the solar system.

The researchers analyzed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets, measuring transit-the momentary dimming of light as a planet passes in front of its star. The exosystem is further similar to our moon, at 1.5 per cent the exoplanet's mass.

Researchers detect exoplanets by observing the reduction in the brightness of the star they orbit.

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To find evidence for the existence of the exomoon, the team observed the planet while it was in transit in front of its parent star, causing a dimming of the starlight.

The transit timing variation seen in the Kepler-1625b data could similarly be due to the presence of an unseen outer planet, perturbing the orbit of the gas giant.

While Kepler 1625b's wobble could be caused by the gravitational pull of another planet orbiting the parent star rather than by an orbiting moon, Teachey and Kipping believe a moon is the most likely explanation.

"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", David Kipping, second author of the study, said. Whether future observations confirm the existence of the Kepler-1625b moon, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will be used to find candidate moons around other planets, with much greater detail than Kepler. They observed the system throughout a predicted transit of the planet Kepler-1625b over the course of 40 hours.

The moon theory is also supported by the fact that Kepler-1625b completed its transit an hour earlier than anticipated.

But Dr Kipping said: "Both bodies, however, are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it". In addition, because they orbit the planet, their own orbit is also constantly shifting.

The potential moon would be considerably larger than Earth - about the size of Neptune or Uranus. The problem is only large planets that orbit close to stars are detectable, and those types of planets typically don't have moons.

"But going forward, I think we're opening the doors to finding worlds like that", Teachey said.

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