Further evidence of a moon outside our solar system

Further evidence of a moon outside our solar system

Further evidence of a moon outside our solar system

This artist's impression depicts the exomoon candidate Kepler-1625b-i, the planet it is orbiting and the star in the centre of the star system.

If assumptions of scientists confirmed the moon will be the first one discovered outside the Solar system.

Past year a team of researchers led by Columbia University astronomer Alex Teachey said they think they discovered a moon orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b, which is located 2.4 kiloparsecs (roughly 8,000 light-years) from our planet and surrounded by the constellation Cygnus.

Astronomers have possibly discovered the first known moon outside our Solar System, using NASA's Hubble and Kepler space telescopes.

However, before getting too excited about the prospect of finding Ewoks, it should be noted that the exomoon (formally named as Kepler-1625b-i) has a radius of around four times that of the Earth and a mass of around 16 times that of our planet, so is in fact similar in size and mass to the planet Neptune.

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According to the recent study, the object orbiting Kepler-1625b might indeed be an exomoon as the giant planet passed before its host star one hour before the astronomers predicted.

Clearly, an exomoon may contribute an additional transit signal of its own, but for an object comparable in size to the Earth's moon, the extra dimming will only amount to around ten parts per million - making it hard to detect. They observed the system throughout a predicted transit of the planet Kepler-1625b over the course of 40 hours. Second, the transit time of Kepler-1625b happened earlier than expected, which may have been caused by an exomoon that makes the exoplanet wobble, similar to what the moon does to the Earth.

Study co-author Alex Teachey, also of Columbia, admitted that the potential exomoon discovery is far from a slam dunk: "We are urging caution here". These observations ended before a full transit of the moon could be measured but the evidence provided were the most compelling yet for the first known planetary satellite around an exoplanet. It's assumed to be a gas giant about the size of Jupiter, but ten times as dense. "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".

Teachey and Kipping are submitting proposals for more time on Hubble to observe this planet and its moon during another transit.

"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". Another is capture, when objects are captured and pulled into orbit around a large planet - like Neptune's moon Triton, which is believed to be a captured Kuiper Belt object.

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In the Hubble data, they saw a moon tugging along, "trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash".

Spotting a planet orbiting a star 8,000 light-years away isn't exactly easy, but modern telescope technology has allowed astronomers to accomplish such feats with shocking regularity, especially over the past half decade or so.

Exomoons are hard to find because they are very small, so the dip they cause in light is obviously weaker than a planet that is, by comparison, much larger.

But Dr Kipping said: "Both bodies, however, are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it". There are just a handful of these in the Kepler database. "But moving forward, I think we open the door to search for such worlds", said Teachey. Since our inference is dominated by a single but highly precise Hubble epoch, we advocate for future monitoring of the system to check model predictions and confirm repetition of the moon-like signal'.

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And, based on their earlier data, the researchers would expect the moon to be trailing Kepler-1625b at this point in its orbit. The researchers can't be completely sure, however, since the observation of the moon transit could not be completed.

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