Has NASA's Kepler Space Telescope detected first exomoon?

Olive Hawkins
October 6, 2018

The new discovery of astronomers is called "exomoon" was found from Nasa's Kepler spacecraft data and observed using the Hubble telescope and it is described as the size of Neptune and orbits a planet the size of Jupiter but with 10 times the mass.

Astronomers have hunted for "exoplanets" - planets outside our solar sytem - for decades, but have never spotted an "exomoon", until now. 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. Because it's a gaseous moon circling a gas giant, it's possible-but unlikely-that it was formed like our moon when a cosmic collision broke a chunk off its host planet.

There are about 200 moons in our own solar system, including Earth's aptly named "moon".

Teachey and Kipping believe the moon is approximately the size of Neptune, making it larger than any moon in our solar system.

Kepler, now virtually out of gas after an extraordinary mission, detected more than 2,600 exoplanets by looking for the tell-tale dip in brightness that occurs when a planet transits, or moves in front of its parent star as seen from Earth, blocking some of the star's light. However, scientists know that Earth's moon is gradually moving away from our planet at a rate of about 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) per year.

To detect exoplanets, astronomers usually observe their transit, which shows up when a star's brightness dips, indicating that a planet is passing in front of it. However, using the Hubble Space Telescope more recently, Teachey and his colleagues made more detailed observations, almost confirming the existence of the first exomoon ever discovered.

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Two scientists have found evidence that an exoplanet found by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope may have a Neptune-sized moon orbiting it.

This is consistent with the planet and moon orbiting a common centre of gravity (barycentre) that would cause the planet to wobble from its predicted location. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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

Dr Kipping said this was consistent with "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash".

Dr. Kipping and Teachey have already made the detection pretty clear now they have to wait a long time because of the orbit in order to see the next transition. In addition, because they orbit the planet, their own orbit is also constantly shifting. But, according to Kipping, neither gaseous object is suitable for life as we know it.

Even if it might be unusual that a Neptune-sized moon could exist out there, at the same time, nothing in physics says that it can't. On the other hand, the scientists agreed that another planet in Kepler-1625b's vicinity might also cause such turbulence. The researchers were awarded 40 hours of observation time using Hubble, and the data they gathered were four times more precise than what Kepler had captured. "But moving forward, I think we open the door to search for such worlds", said Teachey.

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