Published: Sat, October 06, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Evidence of possible exomoon detected for the first time

Evidence of possible exomoon detected for the first time

Astronomers have announced the possible discovery of the first known moon outside our Solar System.

Only two planets in our solar system - Mercury and Venus - don't have moons, Kipping said.

Kipping has spent the past decade or so working to do just that.

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

However, the finding is both promising and intriguing.

The planet and its moon seem to have a similar size ratio that of the Earth and the Moon. Planets too close to their host stars are less likely to feature moons.

These researchers also found that the exoplanet passed in front of its star about 80 minutes earlier than they anticipated. Astronomers think numerous gas giants' moons are captured asteroids. Simply based on this example, exomoons should be abundant in the galaxy, yet evidence for them has remained elusive.

So Kipping and Teachey asked for 40 hours of observing time with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is four times as precise as Kepler. There's no indication of another planet in the system that could be tugging on Kepler-1625b, and the secondary dimming is consistent with a moon trailing the gas giant during its transit.

This graphic depicts how the astronomers believe the Kepler-1625 system works, with the exomoon orbiting along a wide, highly inclined path around its huge parent world.

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"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", Kipping said in a Hubble press release on Wednesday.

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers found 'compelling' evidence for the moon, orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b.

Kipping said there's already another potential planet-moon combination worth looking at. This time ran out before the moon's complete transit could be measured. Most scientists think an impact scenario explains Earth's moon. It was also found to be orbiting its star inside the "habitable zone" - the region around the star where liquid water could exist on the surface of a rocky planet. Panel 4 shows the secondary transit showing up in the light curve as the large candidate moon passes in front of the star. These enabled astronomers to derive the masses of the planets directly from the transit light curve. "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".

The researchers believe the star system to be 10 billion years old, which means it's had time to evolve. He points out that our moon - the one with the astronaut footprints - does more than just inspire poets. "Science can't operate by teams such as ourselves refusing to publish our results and hiding behind closed doors", Kipping says in an online outreach video posted concurrently with the paper. Or maybe its origin story resembles that of the moons of Jupiter, which are thought to have coalesced from a ring of gas and dust that circled the planet. There are three primary theories about how moons form.

Likewise, Teachey is not discouraged by the fact that only one of almost 300 planets surveyed appeared to host a moon. There are no indications of tidal capture among our Solar System's moons.

The exomoon is exponentially larger than our solar system's biggest moon. So it remains a mystery - for now.

The researchers hoped to see two short dimming moments that might signal the presence of an exomoon around one of these transiting planets. So it would be surprising if we actually did see an exomoon in most of the systems we've studied so far.

Even though gas giants aren't typically considered hospitable to life, it's hard to resist comparing the pair to exoplanets and exomoons in the movies, such as Polyphemus and Pandora in "Avatar". But for now, the researchers welcome comment and criticism of their hypothesis from other astronomers as part of the scientific process.

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