Published: Sat, October 06, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

First evidence of moon outside our solar system: Astronomers

First evidence of moon outside our solar system: Astronomers

An ageing sun-like star in the constellation Cygnus is known to host a huge, gas giant planet the size of Jupiter, known as Kepler 1625b.

We are still discovering dwarf planets within our own solar system, and astronomers have spent the past 30 years trying to locate an exomoon, but to no avail.

In the Kepler exoplanet catalog, there are only a few Jupiter-size planets that are farther from their star than Earth is from the sun - good candidates for moons due to the distance.

In search of exomoons, Alex Teachey and David Kipping, astronomers at Columbia University in NY, analyzed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets that were in comparatively wide orbits, longer than 30 days, around their host star.

The discovery, detailed by researchers on Wednesday, was a surprise, and not because it showed that moons exist elsewhere - they felt it was only a matter of time for one to be found in another star system.

Teachey and study co-author David Kipping, also of Columbia, were very cautious about their prospective find, emphasizing that their focus remains on confirming the existence of the exomoon around Kepler-1625b rather than musing about its potential to support life.

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For the so-called exomoon presence announced on July 2017, were made more observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, and scientist was able to gather more data about the orbital companion for Kepler 1625b. 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 host planet and its moon lie within the solar mass star's (Kepler 1625) habitable zone, where moderate temperatures should allow for the existence of liquid water on any solid planetary surface.

Kepler-1625B and its moon appear to have a similar ratio to Earth and the Moon but both are much larger.

Compelling evidence for it to be an exomoon came when they noticed a slight transit - a dimming in brightness of around 0.05% - occurring just after the exoplanet transit.

Fast forward a year and throw in a mix of data from the Hubble Space Telescope and older data from the Kepler Space Telescope and the results look a lot more promising.

The session ended before the moon's complete transit could be measured. Kipping explained it as, "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash". "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". The second was a delay in the planet passing in front of its star.

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Teachey and Kipping are submitting proposals for more time on Hubble to observe this planet and its moon during another transit. A Neptune-sized moon is both unusual and unexpected.

"It's raising new questions about sort of the dynamical processes that go on to create the planets and moons", Teachey said.

Like its moon, Kepler-1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the solar system.

Moons are abundant in our own solar system, with close to 200. They chose to look at exoplanets with the widest orbits, or those that take about 30 days to circle their stars.

The astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope, which was built by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency.

The evidence was published in Science, where the authors said: 'We find evidence in favor of the moon hypothesis, based on timing deviations and a flux decrement from the star consistent with a large transiting exomoon.

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