Astronomers find signs of "exomoon" in distant solar system
06 October, 2018, 12:26 | Author: Kelly Sanders
According to the researchers, the data which was gathered from recent Hubble Space Telescope observations of the star Kepler-1625 shows that the exoplanet Kepler-1625b is several times larger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System by a mile.
Over the last 30 years, astronomers have discovered over 3,500 "exoplanets" - planets orbiting stars other than the Sun - but this is the first evidence of an exomoon.
"To be honest, we never really anxious much about habitability, just because they're both gas giants, so it really wasn't something we spent any effort or time worrying about", Kipping said during Monday's teleconference. Researchers from the US-based Columbia University said that such a huge moon is not in our own solar system, but such 200 natural satellites have been listed.
Teachey and co-author David Kipping, an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia, published their findings in the journal Science Advances on October 3.
Teachey and Kipping believe the moon is approximately the size of Neptune, making it larger than any moon in our solar system. The researchers monitored a 19-hour event when the planet known as Kepler 1625b passed in front of its parent star blocking out some of the light coming from the star, which lies at a distance of 8,000 light-years from Earth and matched with their expectations. They estimate it to be 1.5 percent the mass of its planet and the mass ratio between planet and moon to be close to that of the Earth-Moon system.
After it ended the telescope detected a second and much smaller decrease in the star's brightness three-and-a-half hours later.
Exomoons are hard to find because they are very small, so the dip they cause in light is obviously weaker than a planet that is, by comparison, much larger.
It helps, if the moon your searching for is rather big too; say on the scale of a medium to large planet. They observed the system throughout a predicted transit of the planet Kepler-1625b over the course of 40 hours.
"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", said Kipping. This is further complicated by the fact that the moon signal will also be in a different location with respect to the host planet at each epoch, so the moon transits will not be strictly repeatable, and multiple moons around a single planet may wash out any observable signal anyway. The ideal candidate planets hosting moons are in wide orbits, with long and infrequent transit times. Sure enough, the scientists said, they detected deviations and wobbles, indicating the possible presence of a moon.
"Both bodies, however, are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it", Kipping said. On the other hand, the scientists agreed that another planet in Kepler-1625b's vicinity might also cause such turbulence.
"We can expect to see really tiny moons with Webb", Teachey said.
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