In a surprise, first alien moon discovered is big and gaseous

Olive Hawkins
October 6, 2018

They were amazed instead by how different this moon was from the roughly 180 known in our solar system.

But the research group also says there is still a possibility that they found a planet, not a satellite, so they say they will continue monitoring to confirm their findings. And, with a year between orbits, the researchers had enough time to arrange for the Hubble Space Telescope to image the planet's next pass in front of its star.

Two Columbia University researchers presented their tantalizing evidence Wednesday.

Since the 2009 launch of NASA's Kepler telescope, scientists have identified thousands of planets outside our solar system, which are called exoplanets.

Astronomers have announced the possible discovery of the first known moon outside our Solar System.

The detection of the candidate exomoon - moons orbiting planets in other star systems - is unusual because of its large size, comparable to the diameter of Neptune.

"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.

An illustration of the exoplanet Kepler 1625b with its large hypothesized moon. Astronomers think numerous gas giants' moons are captured asteroids.

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"When we derived the mass ratio, that's really sort of what I would say, in court, defines the difference between a planet and a moon or a binary planet", he said. And Hubble shows an additional dimming later in the planet's transit.

The first hints for the exomoon came from archival data from the Kepler probe, a NASA planet-hunting spacecraft, which looks for dips in brightness caused by unseen planets transiting in front of their suns. "It was definitely a shocking moment to see that light curve - my heart started beating a little faster and I just kept looking at that signature", David Kipping described his feelings. "Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the moon could be measured".

Sadly, Hubble's time is in high demand, which means the time Teachey and Kipping had with the telescope was limited to 40 hours. The planet appeared to make its transit earlier than expected, suggesting that the gravity of something was tugging on it.

Roughly 7,000 light years away from us, orbiting around a Sun-like star in the constellation Cygnus, is a single, huge exoplanet, known as Kepler-1625b. However, Kepler 1625b and its moon are gaseous, not rocky, raising questions about how such a moon could have formed in the first place.

This artist's conception of the Kepler-1625 system shows the vast Jupiter-sized planet with its Neptune-sized moon. Tidal forces between the two objects would rob momentum from the less massive companion and eventually pull it into a permanent orbit. And the third is moons forming from the disc materials that created the planets in the early days of the solar system.

They had already dubbed the candidate satellite a "Nept-moon", because of its large size. The exomoon's mass is about 1.5 per cent that of its planet.

Scientists have reported the first ever discovery of a moon orbiting around an "exoplanet" - a planet that exists outside of the Earth's solar system.

[4] A distant observer watching the Earth and Moon transit the Sun would note similar anomalies in the timing of Earth's transit. We don't have evidence that exomoons are common, so the authors recognize any claims regarding the existence of exomoons should bet met with skepticism. David Kipping, assistant professor at Columbia University, has kept at it for nearly a decade.

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