First known moon beyond the Solar System discovered by astronomers

06 October, 2018, 12:26 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • An artist's impression of the exoplanet Kepler-1625b transiting the star with the newly discovered exomoon in tow is shown in this image released

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, with an assist from the more powerful Hubble Space Telescope, has found what appears to be a huge moon orbiting a gas giant planet 8,000 light years away.

Since moons outside our solar system - known as exomoons - can not be imaged directly, their presence is inferred when they pass in front of a star, momentarily dimming its light.

Kipping and his colleague Alex Teachey, both researchers at Columbia University, detailed their investigation of the Hubble and Kepler data in a new paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The moon is estimated to be only 1.5 per cent the mass of its companion planet, which itself estimated to be several times the mass of Jupiter.

NASA's Hubble and Kepler space telescopes have uncovered what could be the first moon outside our solar system ever found. The exomoon is estimated to be roughly the size of Neptune, the smallest of our solar system's four gas planets, with a diameter of about 30,600 miles (49,000 km).

It orbits its parent star at a distance similar to the distance between the Sun and Earth, which puts it - and its candidate moon - at the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star system.

Intriguingly this is close to the ratio in size between the Earth and its moon, said the researchers. After the transit ended, Hubble detected a second, and much smaller, decrease in the star's brightness approximately 3.5 hours later.

To spot exoplanets, astronomers look at their host stars, and wait for a planet to pass between the starlight and observers on Earth.

Hubble telescope could see a large moon in the distant exoplanets thousands of light years from us. Second, the transit time of Kepler-1625b happened earlier than expected, which may have been caused by an exomoon that makes the exoplanet wobble, similar to what the moon does to the Earth.

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Another possibility is that the moon, whatever its size, has moved away from its planet over the eons. It clearly indicated a moon that was trailing behind the planet.

"We noticed a certain refractive index, and deviations in the light curve that caught our attention", explained KPMG. First, Kepler 1625b begins its transit of the star over an hour early, an indicator that something with relatively strong gravity is tugging on it, alternating its center of gravity and affecting its orbit.

In an attempt to confirm their original tentative detection, the team behind the new study scheduled high precision measurements of Kepler-1625 with the Hubble Space Telescope, which were carried out in October 2017.

The candidate moon, which still needs to be confirmed by follow-up observations, is likely gaseous and therefore not a great bet to host life as we know it, the scientists said.

Because their transit signals are weaker than those of planets and their positions change as they orbit their parent planets.

"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", Teachey said.

Scientists called it "absolunet" by analogy with the name of earth-like planets orbiting other stars.

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

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