Astronomers May Have Discovered The First Exomoon

Posted: Jul 29 2017, 10:49pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 29 2017, 10:54pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Astronomers may have Discovered the First Exomoon
Credit: NASA

The moon is orbiting a planet roughly 4,000 light years away

A team of researchers has found possible signs of an exomoon around a planet some 4,000 light years away. The extrasolar planet itself is orbiting a yellow star called Kepler-1625. The planet is about the same size as Jupiter while the size of the exomoon is comparable to Neptune If confirmed, it would be the first moon outside our solar system and also the largest moon ever observed.

An exomoon is a type of moon that orbits a planet beyond solar system. These planets are also called exoplanets or extrasolar bodies. Many exoplanets with stars have been discovered before. But to date, no one has found the evidence of a moon orbiting any of these exoplanets.

“This candidate is intriguing…But we want to be crystal clear that we are not claiming a detection at this point.” coauthor Alex Teachey from Columbia University told National Geographic.

The potential exomoon is detected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler is primarily designed to search for Earth-like planets and has uncovered thousands of them since its launch in 2009. Exoplanets are tracked by looking at tiny dips of brightness that occur as a planet passes in front of its host star. The same goes for a moon. But it is extremely difficult to detect a relatively small body (moon) orbiting a planet with this technique.

Using Kepler telescope, astronomers recorded three such dips as the planet made three trips around its star. Dips in the star’s brightness indicated that a massive object was also there when the planet passed between Earth and the star. But since those dips were lopsided, researchers suspected that there could be two objects instead of one: a Jupiter-sized planet with a Neptune-sized moon.

“It is consistent with the signal that we might expect from a moon, but it might be consistent with other things as well,” said lead researcher David Kipping from Columbia University. The system is almost 4000 light years away and relatively faint, so more observations are needed to verify that the Kepler signal was really a moon and not just a statistical blip.”

The team expects their finding to be verified by data from the Hubble Space Telescope, which is still a powerful tool to get better observations and to analyze potential candidates.

“Any time the word ‘candidate’ is in the (study) title, it is just that, a candidate,” said MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager. “I am definitely looking forward to the Hubble Space Telescope observations in 2017 to see if anything is actually there.”

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