Sci-tech

Scientists Find What Could Be A History-Making Moon

Scientists Find What Could Be A History-Making Moon

If established by pursuing Hubble observations the discovery could throw light upon important signals about the progress of planetary systems and may originate specialists to frequent conjecture of how moons form around planets.

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, with an assist from the more powerful Hubble Space Telescope, has found what appears to be a huge moon orbiting a gas giant planet 8,000 light years away. They found no evidence for exomoons in the vast majority of the systems, but Kepler-1625 showed tantalising signs of the tiny dip in brightness that constitutes an exomoon signature.

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

"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", said Dr Kipping, from Columbia University in NY. And the third is moons forming from the disc materials that created the planets in the early days of the solar system. "To be honest, we never really anxious too much about habitability, just because they're both gas giants". This also happens with Earth, the moon and the sun.

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"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", Kipping said, in the paper reported in the journal Science Advances.

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.

Kipping and Teachey relied on the "transit" method already used by researchers to discover almost 4,000 planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets. Still, further observations by Hubble are needed to fully confirm the existence of Kepler-1625b-i. In some configurations, that tug will be in the direction of the planet's orbit around its star, causing the transit to occur sooner than expected.

The potential moon would be considerably larger than Earth - about the size of Neptune or Uranus. The researchers were awarded with 40 hours of observation time using Hubble, and the data they gathered were four times more precise than what Kepler had captured.

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Since planets and satellites orbiting stars do not emit light on their own, it is impossible to directly observe those outside the solar system. "It's exciting to see the hunt for the first exomoon continue, and with what would be a shockingly large moon", wrote Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute Technology in Cambridge who was not involved with the work, in an email. But because it's so big, the object would be about twice as big in Kepler-1625b's skies as Earth's moon is in ours, Teachey and Kipping said. But Kepler didn't find any other planets around this star.

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. But because both bodies are gaseous (which means neither are habitable as we understand it, in case you were wondering), and because of the moon's size, that raises questions about how it got there. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn on the other hand coalesced from the debris left behind after the planets formed.

"We hope to re-observe the star again in the future to verify or reject the exomoon hypothesis". "We think that they're at the right temperature to have liquid water on the surface, but of course there is no real surface because they are gas giant planets".

At this point, we've spotted thousands of planets orbiting other stars. While not a candidate for life themselves, Jupiter-like planets in the habitable zone may harbor rocky moons, called exomoons, that could sustain life. That would confirm that the find is an exomoon.

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"We need a larger sample of exomoons to place this one and our moons in context", Mayorga said.