Hubble data hints at first ever moon outside our moon

It orbits its parent star at a distance similar to the distance between the Sun and Earth, which puts it - and its candidate moon - at the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star system [3].

Although moons are common in our solar system, which has almost 200 natural satellites, the long search for interstellar moons has been an empty one.

The exomoon is exponentially larger than our solar system's biggest moon. They were amazed instead by how different this moon was from the roughly 180 known in our solar system.

Kipping has spent a decade working on the "exomoon hunt". They want some more observational data to be certain what they're looking at is indeed an exomoon.

Astronomers David Kipping and Alex Teachey have published their results in Science Advances journal.

"This is not by itself a proof of an exomoon", Kipping said. It's the unknown unknowns, which are ultimately uncharacterizable.

However, the finding is both promising and intriguing. There are no indications of tidal capture among our Solar System's moons. The pair would have a similar mass and radius ratio to the Earth and its moon but scaled up by a factor of 11.

But that size is why it was easier to find, the researchers said. The exoplanet is a gas giant, several times more massive than Jupiter [2]. Just as the first alien planets were unexpected "hot Jupiters" that revolved close to their stars, this first reported "exomoon" is also unusual: a Neptune-size megamoon, some 8000 light-years away, that looms over a giant planet, twice as large in the sky as Earth's moon. This catalog included 284 planets found by Kepler with wide orbits around their host stars.

This still doesn't prove the existence of an exomoon around Kepler-1625b.

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

The astronomers were allocated 40 hours of observation time on the Hubble telescope. Three-and-a-half hours later, Hubble detected a much smaller dip in the star's brightness consistent with a large moon trailing the planet. The observation period, however, ended before the moon could complete its transit.

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"The first is that the planet appears to transit one and a quarter hours too early; that's indicative of something gravitationally tugging on the planet". This also happens with Earth, the moon and the sun. Another possibility is that a passing object was captured by the planet's gravity. The dimmings seemed to show additional dips in brightness, as if another body was tagging along as the planet crossed the star.

Accepting that the data do indeed show evidence for an additional body co-orbiting the star with the planet Kepler-1425b, the question arises - is this really a moon? "It was a shocking moment to see that light curve. But we knew our job was to keep a level head, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us until we were left with no other explanation".

[1] The moons of Jupiter and Saturn likely formed through the agglomeration into a disc of material orbiting the planets, so it is possible that this exomoon also formed in a circumplanetary disc.

The researchers believe the star system to be 10 billion years old, which means it's had time to evolve.

They estimate the surface temperature of both to be 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Astronomers think numerous gas giants' moons are captured asteroids. "But we did think it was interesting enough to try to get more data on".

How did this moon form in the first place? One is when planets impact larger bodiesand the blasted-off material becomes a moon.

Our solar system's moons all are rocky or icy objects. And this moon's size defies explanation. So it would be surprising if we actually did see an exomoon in most of the systems we've studied so far.

Until now, no exomoons have been confirmed. But for now, the researchers welcome comment and criticism of their hypothesis from other astronomers as part of the scientific process.

An artist's impression of exoplanet Kepelr-1625b and its moon.

"If validated, the planet moon system, a Jupiter with a Neptune-sized moon, would be a remarkable system with unanticipated properties, in many ways echoing the unexpected discovery of hot Jupiters in the early days of planet hunting", Kipping said.

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