First Moon Outside Our Solar System May Have Been Discovered

Posted: Oct 7 2018, 10:31am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 7 2018, 10:45am CDT , in Latest Science News

 

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First Moon Outside our Solar System may have been Discovered
Artist's impression of the exoplanet Kepler-1625b with the candidate exomoon. Credit: Dan Durda

Researchers have found evidence of first moon circling a planet outside of our solar system.

Astronomers have found what might be the first compelling evidence of an exomoon. The possible exomoon orbits a gas-giant planet which is located 8,000 light-years from Earth. The massive planet itself orbits a star called Kepler-1625.

An exomoon is a moon orbiting an exoplanet or a planet that lies outside our solar system. Many exoplanets have been discovered over the years, but to date, no one has found solid evidence of a moon orbiting any of those planets. Using NASA's Hubble and Kepler Telescope, researchers have gathered enough evidence to prove the existence of first exomoon. The exomoon candidate is incredibly large, comparable to the size of one of the largest planets in our solar system, Neptune.

“This would be the first case of detecting a moon outside our solar system,” said David Kipping, an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia University. “If confirmed by follow-up Hubble observations, the finding could provide vital clues about the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets."

Unlike moons inside our solar system, exomoons cannot be directly imaged. Since they are too far and faint, their presence is inferred with a method called transit. When an exomoon passes in front of a planet, it causes momentarily dips in the light reflected from it. These dipping events hint at the presence of an object around a planet. Many exoplanets have also been detected using same technique.

“I'm about 75% thinking it's a moon," said Sarah Ballard, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "That encapsulates my skepticism and my confusion and my hope."

Researchers originally noticed this exomoon’s existence last year while studying data from the Kepler Space Telescope. When they analyzed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets, they found one instance, in Kepler 1625b, that had intriguing anomalies. With new and better observations from Hubble Space Telescope, researchers are now much more confident that the object is an exomoon.

“A companion moon is the simplest and most natural explanation for the second dip in the light curve and the orbit-timing deviation,” said Kipping. “It was definitely a shocking moment to see that Hubble light curve, my heart started beating a little faster as I kept looking at that signature. But we knew our job was to keep a level head and essentially assume it was bogus, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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