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

Possible moon beyond the solar system found

Possible moon beyond the solar system found

The researchers then used the Hubble Space Telescope to closely monitor the star in question, monitoring the light closely as the planet made a 19-hour transit.

Astronomers have been searching for exomoons for as long as they've been searching for exoplanets (and they've found thousands of those, ) but, with the exception of a few false alarms, the search for moons has been pretty fruitless.

The moon was discovered circling Kepler 1625b, a massive gas giant three times the size of Jupiter orbiting a star in the constellation Cygnus about 8,000 light years away, reports Sarah Kaplan at The Washington Post. This would be the first moon found outside the Solar System, as indicated by a new study distributed in the journal Science Advances.

The detection of the candidate exomoon - moons orbiting planets in other star systems - is unusual because of its large size, comparable to the diameter of Neptune.

Only one planet held promise for hosting a moon, one around the star known as Kepler-1625, which is about the size of our sun but older.

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.

Describing the moment of discovery, scientist David Kipping said: "It was definitely a shocking moment to see that light curve".

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This is consistent with the planet and moon orbiting a common centre of gravity (barycentre) that would cause the planet to wobble from its predicted location.

"This is a delightful reminder of how little we know about distant planetary systems and how great the spirit of discovery, which embodies exoplanetary science", said one of the study's authors Alex Tichy.

The observation period, however, ended before the moon could complete its transit. Because it's a gaseous moon circling a gas giant, it's possible-but unlikely-that it was formed like our moon when a cosmic collision broke a chunk off its host planet. After combing through it, they focussed on the exoplanet Kepler-1625b, about 4,000 light years away from earth. This mass-ratio is similar to the one between Earth and the Moon. Such large moons do not exist in our own solar system. With a radius that's around a third that of its parent planet, this object is unlike any moon of a giant planet in the solar system.

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers found 'compelling' evidence for the moon, orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b. On the other hand, the scientists agreed that another planet in Kepler-1625b's vicinity might also cause such turbulence. Kipping explained it as, "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash".

"Both bodies, however, are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it", Kipping said. Currently, there are just a handful of such planets in the Kepler database.

"When we run our model, the moon hypothesis was the best and only single explanation for the timing effects and the dimming of the star that we see in the data", Teachey said.

"Furthermore, the size we've calculated for this moon, about the size of Neptune, has hardly been anticipated and so that, too, is reason to be careful here".

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