Kepler 1625b Has Neptune-Sized Moon, Astronomers Say | Astronomy

An illustration shows a moon orbiting around a planet as the pair cross the face of their host star

An illustration shows a moon orbiting around a planet as the pair cross the face of their host star

Since researchers first began detecting exoplanets, or worlds orbiting stars other than our Sun, in the early 1990s, we've gone on to catalogue nearly 3,800 alien planets, with thousands more sightings waiting for confirmation.

The celestial object is "big and weird by solar system standards", said Columbia University astronomy professor David Kipping.

Given that both the planet and its potential moon are gas giants, no one is suggesting conditions that might support life. If it is verified to be the first moon discovered outside of our Solar System.

One of the authors behind the study - David Kipping from Columbia University in the United States - has been speculating about the possible existence of exomoons, and describing how they might be detected, for the last ten years.

"If confirmed by follow-up Hubble observations, the finding could provide vital clues about the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets". Kepler-1625b was discovered on May 10 2016, and is as far from its star as Earth is from the sun, placing it in the habitable zone. After the transit ended, Hubble detected a second, and much smaller, decrease in the star's brightness approximately 3.5 hours later. This occurs when the exoplanet passes in front of the star, and the method is therefore called the "transit method". KPMG and his colleague Alex Tichy made their discovery based on the more than 300 distant planets, which were discovered using the space telescope Kepler.

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

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Using Hubble, they also detected that the planet entered transit 1.25 hours earlier than was predicted.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2021, should make it possible for scientists to find even the smallest exomoons, Teachey said. For about four years he examined two signals suggestive of an exomoon in the data from several transits.

Clearly, an exomoon may contribute an additional transit signal of its own, but for an object comparable in size to the Earth's moon, the extra dimming will only amount to around ten parts per million - making it hard to detect. Until now, astronomers have never found solid evidence for a moon. "But we knew our job was to keep a level head and essentially assume it was bogus, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us". Out of these, only one planet showed signs of hosting a moon, one around the star known as Kepler-1625. This could explain why the moon is 3 million kilometers from its planet; they were probably closer in the past.

Like its moon, Kepler-1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the Solar System. However, the search for moons orbiting these exoplanets was not successful - until today.

This was first observed through the Kepler telescope and then confirmed by the Hubble telescope on October 28th and 29, 2017. In the case of the Earth-Moon system and the Pluto-Charon system, the moons are thought to be created through dust leftover after rocky planetary collisions. They chose to look at exoplanets with the widest orbits, or those that take about 30 days to circle their stars.

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