First suspected 'exomoon' discovered 8000 light-years away

First suspected 'exomoon' discovered 8000 light-years away

First suspected 'exomoon' discovered 8000 light-years away

What popped out was a planet called Kepler-1625b, a Jupiter-sized world that orbits a star around 8,000 light-years away.

For the first time, astronomers have discovered what could be an exomoon, a moon outside our solar system.

"We've tried our best to rule out other possibilities such as spacecraft anomalies, other planets in the system or stellar activity, but we're unable to find any other single hypothesis which can explain all of the data we have", co-author David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University in NY, told reporters earlier this week.

Kipping and study co-author Alex Teachey, a Columbia graduate student, said their observations using Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope and Kepler Space Telescope provided the first clear evidence of an exomoon, but further Hubble observations next May must be used to confirm the finding.

Moons are abundant in our own solar system, with close to 200. Astronomers think numerous gas giants' moons are captured asteroids. This also happens with Earth, the moon and the sun.

With the Hubble, they monitored the exoplanet Kepler-1625b as it passed between the star it orbits - Kepler-1625 - and Earth, and they looked at how the brightness of that star dimmed as the planet passed in front of it.

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

While the researchers have yet to confirm the presence of an exomoon, they estimate that this moon would be about the size of Neptune.

The star's light appeared to fade more than an hour before its Jupiter-like planet transited.

Hubble's data, along with fine-tuned data from Kepler, strengthened the case for claiming Kepler-1625b had an exomoon.

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The Kepler and Hubble observations, along with modeling work, suggest that the moon is about the size of Neptune and 1.5 percent as massive as Kepler-1625b.

Kipping emphasized the need for more data and observations, preferably from instruments better able to observe faint stars for long periods of time. While we may not be living in the Star Wars universe, astronomers have now found the first evidence for a moon orbiting a gas giant planet in a star system other than our own. The Earth-moon system formed as a result of a giant impact in the early solar system.

Kipping said that's how the Earth and moon would appear from far away. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope discovers planets by watching for the small dip in starlight as the planet moves across the face of its parent star. However, the star itself, as the team have ascertained from Kepler data, is so quiet they can't even detect its rotation. 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.

"It was definitely a shocking moment to see that Hubble light curve, my heart started beating a little faster as I kept looking at that signature".

"That's been a key driver for us for a while, just trying to understand the cosmic habitats out there that we might look for, for life", says Kipping. This could explain why the moon is 3 million kilometers from its planet; they were probably closer in the past.

He added: "We hope to re-observe the star again in the future to verify or reject the exomoon hypothesis".

Based on the moon's distance from its star, its surface temperature was estimated to be 80C, which is considered just on the upper end of conditions that could support life. The astronomers are uncertain how this potential moon might have formed, given its size.

In our solar system, moons like Europa and Enceladus are thought to be some of the most likely places to find life outside of Earth in our cosmic neighborhood. Other moons, such as Neptune's largest moon Triton, may have been captured from the Kuiper belt.

Until now, no exomoons have been confirmed. "If they see what we see, I expect some people will be convinced and other people will be skeptical". Once the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2021, the search for exomoons may be full of possibilities.

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