'First exomoon may have been found'

'First exomoon may have been found'”

Astronomers may have found the first moon outside our solar system, a gas behemoth the size of Neptune. Such enormous moons are not present in our own solar system where 200 natural satellites have been indexed. Kepler-1625b is a Jupiter-sized planet that orbits far enough away from its star-about the same distance Earth is from ours-that a moon could be stable. The 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.

This "exomoon" is not like any in our cosmic neighbourhood: it's the size of Neptune and orbits a planet the size of Jupiter - but with 10 times the mass.

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 host planet and its moon lie within the solar mass star's (Kepler 1625) habitable zone, where moderate temperatures allow for the existence of liquid water on any solid planetary surface. They were on the lookout for a second temporary dimming of starlight. And those that follow a planet's passages in front of its star have more of these passages to work with when planets are closer and their orbits are shorter. Another is capture, when objects are captured and pulled into orbit around a large planet - like Neptune's moon Triton, which is believed to be a captured Kuiper Belt object.

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 researchers can't be completely sure, however, since the observation of the moon transit could not be completed. That's why the astronomers need another look with Hubble, hopefully next spring.

Despite the evidence, Teachey stressed, "We are urging caution here". Teachey said that it's likely this possible exomoon is "in some ways the lowest hanging fruit". It would also orbit roughly 45° outside the plane defined by the planet's orbit and at an unusually large distance from the planet. The astronomers are uncertain how this potential moon might have formed, given its size.

"If confirmed by follow-up observations, the finding could provide vital clues about the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets", he added.

And when E.T. phones home, there's no reason that home couldn't be a moon. The Kepler outcomes were sufficient enough for the group to achieve 40 hours of time with Hubble to vehemently study the planet acquiring the data four times more accurate than that of Kepler. The pair would have a similar mass and radius ratio to the Earth and its moon but scaled up by a factor of 11.

Another planet could cause the same gravitational nudge, the researchers noted, although Kepler observations have come up empty in that regard. However, Kepler didn't find evidence of any additional planets in this system.

A moon orbiting Kepler-1625b is the best explanation, Teachey and Kipping said. "We're learning new things how to do these observations better". That would confirm that the find is an exomoon.

The Columbia astronomers said they may be able to clinch this as early as next year, with more Hubble viewing.

Whether confirmed or not, the subject offers insight into how rare - or how common - our own solar system might be.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Even in our own solar system, some of the most intriguing places to hunt for life are moons, like Enceladus and Europa around Saturn and Jupiter. Of the eight planets in our solar system, only Mercury and Venus have none. Previous studies suggest it's possible such large moons can coalesce from a planet's rings.

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