'First known exomoon may have been discovered'

Astronomers think they’ve discovered the first “exomoon” – a moon outside of our own solar system

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is an astronomy columnist with National Geographic and the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe.

The size and gaseous composition of the exomoon challenge current moon formation theories. The planet it orbits is as big as mammoth Jupiter. A moon could be the culprit for such a distortion in the trajectory of a planet.

"This would be the first case of detecting a moon outside our solar system", said David Kipping, Assistant Professor at the Columbia University in NY.

According to the recent study, the object orbiting Kepler-1625b might indeed be an exomoon as the giant planet passed before its host star one hour before the astronomers predicted. Now, two scientists from Columbia University in New York (USA) have used the incomparable capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the star Kepler-1625, 8,000 light-years away, and its planet in more detail. They were on the lookout for a second temporary dimming of starlight. After this period showed one stage of weak reduction in the brightness of stars. Today we know that the conditions on extrasolar planets are very diverse - they differ in temperature, size, composition, orbital architecture and character of the star-master. The transit blocked some of the light coming in from the star and this dip in brightness was registered as the Kepler-1625b. Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the candidate moon could be measured and its existence confirmed. That's why the astronomers need another look with Hubble, hopefully next spring. The astronomers are uncertain how this potential moon might have formed, given its size. A moon could cause that kind of an uncertain, wobbly path, they noted. Prof Kipping said. "We can expect to see really tiny moons". The planet resembles Jupiter and located at a distance of about 8000 light years from Earth.

In principle this anomaly could also be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system, but the Kepler Space Telescope found no evidence for additional planets around the star during its four year mission.

Mr Teachey said he is "urging caution" in interpreting the findings, and that more observations are needed to confirm the existence of the exomoon - which would be named Kepler-1625b-i. Ultimately, Kepler-1625b-i can not be considered confirmed until it has survived the long scrutiny of many years, observations and community skepticism, and perhaps the detection of similar such objects.

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"We've tried our best to rule out other possibilities", Kipping told reporters. "But we were unable to find any other single hypothesis which can explain all of the data we have", said Kipping.

A paper on the finding has been published in the journal Science Advances.

The hunt for exomoons - which are just as likely to harbour life - has run parallel to that for moons.

"If this finding stands up to further observational scrutiny, it represents a major milestone in the field of astronomy", Hodges said. In the meantime, they are encouraging other researchers and astronomers to join in as the subject offers insight into how rare our solar system is.

In this search, the Neptune-sized moon would have been among the easiest to first detect because of its large size.

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