Data suggests scientists have found first known exomoon

Over the last couple of decades we’ve spotted thousands of planets outside ofMore

Over the last couple of decades we’ve spotted thousands of planets outside ofMore

But only one of them, Kepler 1625b, demonstrated the kind of properties that they were searching for-a couple of unforeseen variations from the norm. None have been confirmed so far even though more than 3,500 exoplanets are known.

The anomalies were intriguing enough to warrant 40 hours of observation time using the Hubble Space Telescope. This is the first known large satellite of the planet outside the solar system.

Astronomers from Columbia University, Alex Chikopi and David Kiping found the first moon outside our solar system, possibly the size of Neptune or Uranus.

The astronomers are uncertain how this potential moon might have formed, given its size.

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However, before getting too excited about the prospect of finding Ewoks, it should be noted that the exomoon (formally named as Kepler-1625b-i) has a radius of around four times that of the Earth and a mass of around 16 times that of our planet, so is in fact similar in size and mass to the planet Neptune.

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. He stated "The biggest things will be the easiest to find", as he claims that it would be possible to spot the planet footprints in the starlight due to the large size. With his help, they found a second, much smaller depressions in the brightness of the star through 3.5 hours after the transit of the planet.

"We noticed a certain refractive index, and deviations in the light curve that caught our attention", explained KPMG.

The planet was observed by Hubble before and during its 19-hour-long transit. 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. Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the candidate moon could be measured and its existence confirmed.

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However, given that both the planet and its potential moon are gas giants, no one is suggesting conditions that might support life. "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". A moon could be the culprit for such a distortion in the trajectory of a planet. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD. While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful - until today.

Although the object itself can not be seen, there are hints it exists, according to the researchers: The planet moves around its star in a way that indicates something else is pulling on it gravitationally, probably a moon.

Kipping described this as "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash". The Earth-moon system formed as a result of a giant impact in the early solar system. But Kepler didn't find any other planets around this star. Currently, there are just a handful of such planets in the Kepler database. If they are able to observe a full transit, representative of a "clean moonlike event, then I think we're done", Kipping said.

Both anomalies could indicate the presence of a moon in orbit around the planet.

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