In a potential breakthrough for the field, astronomers David Kipping and Alex Teachey have discovered what they believe could be an exomoon - a moon orbiting a planet outside of our solar system. Exoplanets are one of the most exciting discoveries in astronomy - they are worlds outside our solar system, some of which are suspected to be able to support life. Through the Hubble, the team studied Kepler-1625b as it passes between the star that it is orbiting, which is Kepler-1625, and the Earth. The planet Endor itself is a gas giant, but the Forest Moon is a habitable world, peopled by small furry sentient creatures.
It may have been a wayward planet captured by the larger body. Not really an ideal place to live. But just one of them, Kepler 1625b, showed the type of anomaly they were looking for. The transit blocked some of the light coming in from the star and this dip in brightness was registered as the Kepler-1625b.
However, exomoons are harder to detect than exoplanets because they are smaller than their companion planet, and so their transit signal is weaker when plotted on a light curve that measures the duration of the planet crossing and the amount of momentary dimming. However, using the Hubble Space Telescope more recently, Teachey and his colleagues made more detailed observations, almost confirming the existence of the first exomoon ever discovered.
Planets seem to be quite common, so it seems likely that moons should be common, too.
They got exactly that.
The researchers monitored Kepler 1625b before and during its 19-hour-long transit across the face of the star. This is consistent with a model of the system in which the planet and its moon orbit a common centre of gravity, causing the planet to wobble away from its predicted location .
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In theory, this could be the result of the gravitational pull from a hypothetical second planet. In this case, that celestial body is hypothesised to be a moon.
Researchers analysed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets that were comparatively in wider orbits, with periods greater than 30 days, around their host star. "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.
But Kipping and Teachey aren't popping open the champagne quite yet.
Like its moon, Kepler-1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the Solar System.
He added: "The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence". Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the candidate moon could be measured and its existence confirmed. If we can also detect exomoons reliably, that possibility increases dramatically. This was hard for Kipping, who said in a press release that he could barely contain his excitement during testing. But he has admitted that the existence of an exomoon is the "simplest and most natural explanation". But so far, no other planets have been detected.
We do not charge or put articles behind a paywall. Personally, I'm not the betting type, but the evidence seems to be there.
The exoplanet was originally found by the transit technique, in which a planet passing in front of its host star, along our line of sight, causes the star's brightness to dim slightly (by around 1% for a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting a sun-sized star) once every orbit.