While we may not be living in the Star Wars universe, astronomers have now found the first evidence for a moon orbiting a gas giant planet in a star system other than our own.
The team behind this intriguing discovery evaluated more than 250 planets outside our solar system which had been discovered by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler-1625b, a massive planet orbiting a not-too-distant star, seems to have a friend along for the ride, and scientists are racing to confirm their findings and declare it the very first alien moon on record.
"This would be the first case of detecting a moon outside our solar system", Kipping said in a statement. Estimated to have a mass several times of Jupiter, the planet is nearly certainly gaseous and not likely to support life as we know it.
Plenty of planets exist beyond our solar system, but a moon around one of those worlds has yet to be confirmed.
However, this moon is unusual because of its large size, which is more comparable to the diameter of Neptune. The mass ratio between the exomoon and Kepler-1625b is similar to the ratio between the moon and Earth. This occurs when the exoplanet passes in front of the star, and the method is therefore called the "transit method". In addition, the transit of the planet Kepler 1625 began much earlier than the estimated time, which probably indicates the influence of gravity of neighboring and fairly large body.
"We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention", David Kipping, second author of the study, said.
The results from the Kepler space telescope were enough for the team to get some time using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Using Hubble, they also detected that the planet entered transit 1.25 hours earlier than was predicted.
While thousands of exoplanets have been identified over the time, astronomers couldn't detect a moon outside our solar system.
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"If we want to do moon hunting in the future, we will have to look at planets further" than one astronomical unit, or the distance between the sun and Earth, Teachey said. However, the observation period was over before the moon could complete its transit.
He added: "The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence".
The so-called exomoon, estimated to be the size of Neptune, was found in orbit around a huge gas planet 8,000 light-years from Earth. With a radius that's around a third that of its parent planet, this object is unlike any moon of a giant planet in the solar system. Another explanation for the "wobble" could be the gravitational pull of another planet orbiting Kepler-1625.
Compelling evidence have been found on the existence of the moon, orbiting a gas-giant planet, 8,000 light-years away from Earth.
Astronomers call the moon Kepler-1625b-i. This new moon - if that's what it is - is big, about the size of Neptune. "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".
Moons are abundant in our own solar system, with close to 200.
Even though they lie within their system's habitable zone, both the exoplanet and the exomoon are gaseous and thus unsuitable for life.
The astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope, which was built by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency.