October 16, 2018

Has NASA's Kepler Space Telescope detected first exomoon?

06 October 2018, 11:27 | Edward Lowe

First moon outside our solar system discovered, astronomers think

Scientists Think They've Found the First Moon Outside Our Solar System

In a paper published to Science Advances, two scientists from Columbia University in the USA put forward their evidence indicating the existence of a Neptune-sized exomoon orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet 8,000 light years away.

The new moon is bigger than any of the nearly 200 natural satellites that have been found in our own solar system and it has been discovered when the researchers monitored exoplanet Kepler-1625b as it was passing in front of its parent star.

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers found 'compelling' evidence for the moon, orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b. Kepler-1625b, a massive planet orbiting a not-too-distant star, seems to have a friend along for the ride, and scientists are racing to confirm their findings and declare it the very first alien moon on record.

Astronomers Alex Teachey and David Kipping set out to hunt for exomoons using the Kepler space telescope, and analysed the data of 284 exoplanets discovered by Kepler.

However, given that both the planet and its potential moon are gas giants, no one is suggesting conditions that might support life. Scientists have not discovered any moon that large among the 200 natural satellites observed in our solar system.

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Teachey and co-author David Kipping, an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia, published their findings in the journal Science Advances on October 3. The researchers say this may yield new insights into the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets. The moon of Jupiter Ganymede has a diameter of about 5 260 km is estimated, the detected aktolun has a diameter of about 49 000 km. The exosystem is further similar to our moon, at 1.5 per cent the exoplanet's mass. With his help, they found a second, much smaller hole in the brightness of the star through 3.5 hours after the transit of the planet.

To detect exoplanets, astronomers usually observe their transit, which shows up when a star's brightness dips, indicating that a planet is passing in front of it.

The researchers requested time on the Hubble Space Telescope, and their request, which was public, generated a bit of excitement among those who follow new planet discoveries. But only one of them, Kepler 1625b, demonstrated the kind of properties that they were searching for-a couple of unforeseen variations from the norm.

The observation period, however, ended before the moon could complete its transit.

There are no moons anywhere near this size in our solar system. "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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In principle this anomaly could be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system. In addition, because they orbit the planet, their own orbit is also constantly shifting. But there's no evidence of more planets in the system. A Neptune-sized moon is both unusual and unexpected.

The possible moon was documented by Kepler, the powerhouse planet-hunting space telescope, when it cast a shadow by crossing in front of a star.

"We can expect to see really tiny moons with Webb", Teachey said.

The researchers believe the star system to be 10 billion years old, which means it's had time to evolve.

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