Scientists first discovered the moon outside the Solar system

07 October, 2018, 17:43 | Author: Chad Warren
  • Scientists Think They've Found the First Moon Outside Our Solar System

It had all the right numbers: It was several times bigger than Jupiter, orbited a host star that is similar in mass to the sun, and is located at the same distance as the earth from sun.

Exomoons are natural satellites of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. None have been confirmed so far even though more than 3,500 exoplanets are known.

Unlike some notable space discoveries, this find wasn't random; Mike Wall at Space.com reports that Columbia University astronomers David Kipping and Alex Teachey were doggedly hunting for exomoons-a truly challenging feat-when they found the beast. Kipping and Tichy noticed a odd anomaly in the data concerning the transit of the gas giant Kepler 1625b, which is several times more than Jupiter. The first dip in brightness would be the planet crossing in front of its star while the second dip could possibly substantiate their extraordinary claim of exomoon outside our solar system. The observations measured the momentary dimming of starlight as a planet passed in front of its star, called a transit.

"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.

So Kipping and Teachey asked for 40 hours of observing time with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is four times as precise as Kepler.

They also noticed that Kepler-1625B was early in starting is transit which is consistent with the wobble of a planet that has an orbiting moon. Astronomers have had success locating exoplanets around stars outside our solar system, but exomoons are harder to pinpoint due to their smaller size. Three-and-a-half hours later, Hubble detected a much smaller dip in the star's brightness consistent with a large moon trailing the planet.

However, the pair are cautious about confirming the find as an exomoon and say more observation is needed. Out of this multitude of planets, the scientists found a particular one, Kepler-1625b, presented the right conditions for holding an exomoon. All the planets in our solar system except Mercury and Venus have moons.

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But Kepler 1625b and its moon are gaseous - not rocky - so such a collision may not lead to the condensation of a satellite. "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".

Another planet could cause the same gravitational nudge, the researchers noted, although Kepler observations have come up empty in that regard. But, according to Kipping, neither gaseous object is suitable for life as we know it.

This illustration provided by Dan Durda shows the exoplanet Kepler-1625b with a hypothesized moon.

Exomoons are hard to find because they are smaller than their companion planet and so their transit signal is weak.

KIPPING: So when we look for an Earth twin, I think one of the most obvious things you might ask is, does it have a moon twin, because that seems to have a large influence. A Neptune-sized moon is both unusual and unexpected.

They followed up with the Hubble Space Telescope.

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

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