Have scientists found a moon around a planet outside the solar system?

Have scientists found a moon around a planet outside the solar system?

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Even in our own solar system, some of the most intriguing places to hunt for life are moons, like Enceladus and Europa around Saturn and Jupiter.

While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful - until today. And they noticed weird deviations in the "light curve" generated by the 19-hour-long transit of Kepler-1625b, a planet about three times heftier than Jupiter that orbits a star about as massive as our own sun. Now, two scientists from Columbia University in New York (USA) have used the incomparable capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the star Kepler-1625, 8000 light-years away, and its planet in more detail.

In addition to this dip in light, Hubble provided supporting evidence for the moon hypothesis by measuring that the planet began its transit 1.25 hours earlier than predicted. If confirmed, this would be the first discovery of a moon outside our Solar System.

That second dip in light may have resulted from a moon trailing the larger planet, which is orbiting the host star.

"We've tried our best to rule out other possibilities such as spacecraft anomalies, other planets in the system or stellar activity, but we're unable to find any other single hypothesis which can explain all of the data we have", Columbia Professor David Kipping, the study's other author, told reporters during a teleconference in advance of the study's release. But because it's so big, the object would be about twice as big in Kepler-1625b's skies as Earth's moon is in ours, Teachey and Kipping said. Astronomers think numerous gas giants' moons are captured asteroids. Astronomers have had success locating exoplanets around stars outside our solar system, but exomoons are harder to pinpoint due to their smaller size. And Hubble shows an additional dimming later in the planet's transit.

"It was definitely a shocking moment to see that light curve - my heart started beating a little faster and I just kept looking at that signature". Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the moon could be captured.

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The Kepler results were enough for the team to get 40 hours of time with Hubble to intensively study the planet, obtaining data four times more precise than that of Kepler. Secondly, the planet's transit time occurred earlier than expected, which could be caused by an orbiting moon pulling at the planet and causing it to wobble.

They observed light from the star Kepler-1625, which is 8,000 light years away from Earth. What popped out was Kepler-1625b. "We'd be very grateful if we had the means to use James Webb, because then we could really clean up", Kipping said.

Astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi says this really could change the way we look at our solar system.

Our solar system's moons all are rocky or icy objects. She says moons are kind of the next frontier when it comes to understanding alien solar systems. For example, the Trappist-1 system of seven transiting planets exhibits strong transit timing variations. Or perhaps, like Earth's moon, it is a product of its planet, formed in some catastrophic collision. It is gaseous and 15 times bigger than our moon. This is because any model of a moon must account for every transit event that has been observed (here, that included transits already observed by Kepler).

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between ESA and NASA. "The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence".

"The fact is, it's so odd and it's the first of its kind", says David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University.

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