JUL 31, 2017 08:57 AM PDT

This Could Be the First Exomoon Ever Discovered

It’s nothing new for astronomers to find a new planet outside of our solar system. Experts commonly refer to these as exoplanets, and they’re found in star systems throughout the Milky Way galaxy, almost anywhere you look. On the other hand, astronomers have yet to find a moon outside of our solar system.

In a new study available on arXiv.org, researchers led by David M. Kipling from Columbia University think they might have partial evidence for the first exomoon ever discovered.

Astronomers may have found the first exomoon ever discovered, but they're not 100% sure yet.

Image Credit: PIRO4D/Pixabay

The purported exomoon in question is orbiting an exoplanet dubbed Kepler 1625b, and it’s located in a star system around 4,000 light years away from Earth.

If it exists, it could be as large as Neptune and have a similar mass. That’s a strikingly-large exomoon, so you’d be right to assume it must be orbiting a giant exoplanet. Researchers think such an exoplanet could be comparable in size to Jupiter, but with at least ten times more mass than our close giant planetary neighbor has.

Astronomers find exoplanets by observing the cosmos with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope for evidence of ‘dimming’ stars, which is a typical sign of a planetary body transiting across the surface of a host star.

The process of searching for exomoons, on the other hand, is a more complicated task. The exoplanets they orbit aren’t direct light sources like stars are, so there’s hardly a dimming effect to speak of when an exomoon transits an exoplanet.

Instead, researchers push the boundaries of modern exoplanet discovery technology, looking for dimming effects that occur both leading the trailing the exoplanet as it transits its host star. These dimming effects are caused by another body orbiting the exoplanet, blocking out the reflected star’s light on either side of the exoplanet during transit.

Astronomers don’t come across this process in the right place and at the right time very often; this explains why we haven't found any exomoons to date. Moreover, this method is experimental and lacks real-world testing. One might say it's not a very credible way to look for exomoons (yet).

Related: Exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars are unlikely to support life

While the researchers behind the study are confident they found something interesting here, they can’t say for sure that it’s an exomoon.

“It wasn’t something we were planning on announcing because at this point it’s only a candidate,” study lead author David M. Kipling from the University of Columbia said in a statement.

“It really only takes the slightest misstep in our language to miscommunicate the reality of what we have.”

It’s still possible we’re dealing with an exomoon here, but the researchers are withholding absolute judgment until it can be validated. Instead, they pushed their findings and theories to help facilitate additional research into the matter.

Observations with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which are planned for October of this year, could help validate or disprove the discovery. If data from two space telescopes align with the theory, rather than just one, it will look much better for the study and the credibility of those involved.

For now, it’s a waiting game until astronomers can make further observations. In the meantime, the researchers participating in this study will continue to theorize based on the data they have at hand right now.

Source: Nature, Phys.org

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 07, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 07, 2018
Why Does the James Webb Space Telescope Keep Getting Delayed?
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to become NASA’s latest and greatest space-based observatory, superseding the Hubble Space Telescope as the big...
AUG 22, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 22, 2018
How Much Damage Could an Asteroid Impact Do?
There are so many asteroids in the solar system that it’s challenging to keep track of them. In fact, many asteroids are still lurking in the shadows...
OCT 02, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 02, 2018
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope Enters Sleep Mode to Preserve Data
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope earned a reputation for being quite the capable exoplanet hunter, but after all these years of memorable service to the...
OCT 14, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 14, 2018
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory Enters Safe Mode for Unknown Reasons
A little more than a week ago, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope started exhibiting wonky gyroscope data consistent with a mechanical failure. Consequent...
OCT 30, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 30, 2018
NASA Officially Retires the Kepler Space Telescope
For more than nine-and-a-half years, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope helped curious astronomers on their quest to identify distant worlds. These words,...
OCT 31, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 31, 2018
Do You Have What it Takes to be an Astronaut?
Have you ever wanted to become an astronaut? If yes, then you’re not alone. Being able to experience zero gravity is a mutual interest among individu...
Loading Comments...