Boffins 'discover first moon outside our solar system'

06 Octobre, 2018, 12:27 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Over the last couple of decades we’ve spotted thousands of planets outside ofMore

Over the last 20 years or so, over 2,000 exoplanets - planets outside our solar system - have been spotted and identified. They will use the Hubble Space Telescope for more observations in May 2019 to confirm their finding.

In talking with reporters, both Kipping and Teachey insisted their hypothesis remains just that. But the results are delayed due to the limits of detection with current techniques.

"The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim, and it requires extraordinary evidence". But the habitability in a system with two gas giants is not concerned of Dr. Kippin and Dr. Teachey.

Our own solar system has about 200 satellites. While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful - until today. Kepler uses the transit method, which involves measuring the regular dimming of a star's light caused by an orbiting planet passing in front of it, to indirectly detect exoplanets.

That planet, called Kepler-1625b, is one of thousands that scientists have recently detected around distant stars.

Describing the moment of discovery, scientist David Kipping said: "It was definitely a shocking moment to see that light curve".

They monitored the planet before and during its 19-hour-long transit across the face of the star. That means this star, and the planet and moon it shines upon, were probably much cooler in the past, Kipping said.

They were hoping to find a moon that was the size of Jupiter's large moons, and then requested for a more detailed observation with the Hubble telescope.

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In principle this anomaly could be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system. Until now, astronomers have never found solid evidence for a moon.

There are many theories about planetary formation but a recent one suggests that object are unlikely to form themselves in place with their Jupiter-mass planets, but instead they can be captured by the gravity of the planet later on in the evolution of a planetary system. However, scientists know that Earth's moon is gradually moving away from our planet at a rate of about 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) per year. One is when planets impact larger bodies and the blasted-off material becomes a moon.

The same is believed to have happened in the Pluto-Charon system - the largest of the five known natural satellites of the dwarf planet. If real, Nept-moon would also be gaseous, and would appear twice as big as our moon in Kepler-1625b's sky. They also shift position with each orbit.

Teachey and Kipping are submitting proposals for more time on Hubble to observe this planet and its moon during another transit. There's no analog for such a large moon in our own system. 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.

Although the planet and its possible moon are within the habitable zone of their star, both are considered to be gas giants and "unsuitable for life as we know it", Kipping said. But Kepler didn't find any other planets around this star.

We likely won't have total confirmation of the exomoon's existence for some time, but advancing telescope technology will eventually allow astronomers to make definitive judgements on observations like this.

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