The first exomoon: Evidence of a moon outside our solar system

The moon is the size of Neptune More

"This would be the first case of detecting a moon outside our solar system", said David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University and lead author of a study about the finding.

This potential new moon orbits a giant, Jupiter-sized planet about 8,000 light-years from Earth.

In what would quite literally be a colossal first, astronomers may have finally found an exomoon, or a moon orbiting a planet outside of our own solar system. Kepler-1625b, a massive planet orbiting a not-too-distant star, seems to have a friend along for the ride, and scientists are racing to confirm their findings and declare it the very first alien moon on record.

"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. It's assumed to be a gas giant about the size of Jupiter, but ten times as dense.

Plenty of planets exist beyond our solar system, but a moon around one of those worlds has yet to be confirmed.

Kipping and co-author Alex Teachey, a student at Columbia, published the results of their discovery on Wednesday. The exomoon is estimated to be roughly the size of Neptune, the smallest of our solar system's four gas planets, with a diameter of about 30,600 miles (49,000 km).

Kepler, now virtually out of gas after an extraordinary mission, detected more than 2,600 exoplanets by looking for the tell-tale dip in brightness that occurs when a planet transits, or moves in front of its parent star as seen from Earth, blocking some of the star's light. Another is capture, when objects are captured and pulled into orbit around a large planet - like Neptune's moon Triton, which is believed to be a captured Kuiper Belt object. The celestial body and its planet were also discovered using this method.

In July 2017, researchers started observing Kepler-1625b, an exoplanet orbiting the star Kepler-1625 in the constellation Cygnus.

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This is consistent with the planet and moon orbiting a common centre of gravity (barycentre) that would cause the planet to wobble from its predicted location.

The exomoon is exponentially larger than our solar system's biggest moon.

Like its moon, Kepler 1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the Solar System. It clearly indicated a moon that was trailing behind the planet.

"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", Kipping said in a news release.

They monitored the planet before and during its 19-hour-long transit across the face of the star.

They were hoping to find a moon that was the size of Jupiter's large moons, and then requested for a more detailed observation with the Hubble telescope.

Because their transit signals are weaker than those of planets and their positions change as they orbit their parent planets. Despite finding all those planets, researchers have never detected a moon. But, according to Kipping, neither gaseous object is suitable for life as we know it. This particular planet - or exoplanet - is about the same distance from its star as Earth is to the sun. "When we look for an Earth twin, I think one of the most obvious things you might ask is, 'Does it have a moon twin, ' because that seems to have a large influence", he notes".

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