Have astronomers found 1st moon outside our solar system?
07 October, 2018, 17:41 | Author: Ann Santiago
What popped out was a planet called Kepler-1625b, a Jupiter-sized world that orbits a star around 8,000 light-years away.
Moons are certainly plentiful in our solar system - the four giant planets host over 200 moons between them - so it is entirely plausible that many (or even most) of the now known exoplanets - nearly 4,000 - should harbour exomoons. We won't know for sure until researchers can do more tests, of course, but even so, what we do have is very promising.
One of the authors behind the study - David Kipping from Columbia University in the U.S. - has been speculating about the possible existence of exomoons, and describing how they might be detected, for the last ten years. 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 exomoon and its planet orbit Kepler-1625, a star similar in temperature to our sun but about 70 percent larger.
Kepler, now virtually out of gas after an extraordinary mission, detected more than 2,600 exoplanets by looking for the tell-tale dip in brightness that occurs when a planet transits, or moves in front of its parent star as seen from Earth, blocking some of the star's light.
To spot exoplanets, astronomers look at their host stars, and wait for a planet to pass between the starlight and observers on Earth.
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But now, a combination of old data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope and observations using the Hubble Space Telescope may have revealed the first evidence for an "exomoon", a moon orbiting an exoplanet.
"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", Kipping said, in the paper reported in the journal Science Advances. Another compelling evidence in favour of their apparent discovery was that the planet passed in front of its star one hour earlier than they had predicted. Not because it showed that moons exist outside the solar system, but also because they felt it was only a matter of time for professionals to find another solar system. They're hoping to complete a second Hubble observation next year to either prove or disprove Kepler-1625b-i's existence.
It's not like the exomoon in "Avatar" or Endor from "Star Wars", Teachey said, "but going forward, I think we're opening doors to finding worlds like that".
An artist's conception of a star with the planet Kepler-1625b and exomoon in the foreground.
In addition to this second dip in the light curve, Hubble detected the planet's transit more than one hour earlier than predicted, bolstering the exomoon theory.
The astronomers are uncertain how this potential moon might have formed, given its size. That behavior is common with a planet and moon orbiting a common center of gravity, which causes the planet to wobble from its previously-expected location. Out of the eight planets, only Mercury and Venus have none. However, both bodies are considered to be gaseous and, therefore, unsuitable for life as we know it. There's no analog for such a large moon in our own system. At this size, the moon, tentatively designated Kepler-1625b-i, is likely to be gaseous as well.
The Columbia astronomers directed the Hubble Space Telescope in October in an attempt to verify or rule out their findings. They made a decision to look at exoplanets with the widest orbits, or those that take about 30 days to circle their stars.
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