Have astronomers found a moon in another solar system?

Astronomers think they’ve discovered the first “exomoon” – a moon outside of our own solar system

In a stellar system 8000 light-years from Earth, astronomers have found the first compelling evidence for a Neptune-sized moon orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet.

The exomoon candidate has been officially called Kepler-1625b-i, but its discoverers have nicknamed it the "Nept-moon", since it's predicted to be the size of Neptune.

Over the last years, astronomers kept hunting bodies that orbit distant planets and planets from the star-soaked fabric of the cosmos, using multiple techniques to find them and confirm their existence.

"It's big and weird by solar system standards", Columbia University astronomy professor David Kipping said of the moon, known as an exomoon because it is outside our solar system.

Given the conditions that both the planet and its potential moon are gas giants, it can not be said that this planet might support life. The researchers say this may yield new insights into the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets.

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.

According to the recent study, the object orbiting Kepler-1625b might indeed be an exomoon as the giant planet passed before its host star one hour before the astronomers predicted. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Kipping and Teachey observed how the light of the star dimmed as the planet crossed in front of its star.

Kipping said "We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention".

So Kipping and Teachey asked for 40 hours of observing time with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is four times as precise as Kepler.

Only two planets in our solar system - Mercury and Venus - don't have moons, Kipping said. Three-and-a-half hours later, Hubble detected a much smaller dip in the star's brightness consistent with a large moon trailing the planet.

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"A moon is an excellent explanation to the data at hand", Kipping said.

"The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence", Teachey said.

Mr Teachey said he is "urging caution" in interpreting the findings, and that more observations are needed to confirm the existence of the exomoon - which would be named Kepler-1625b-i. "Furthermore, the size we've calculated for this moon, about the size of Neptune, has hardly been anticipated and so that, too, is reason to be careful here".

Like its moon, Kepler 1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the Solar System. "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".

Still, moons orbiting around other planets may not be all that unusual.

The researchers note the planetary wobble could be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system, rather than a moon.

Because their transit signals are weaker than those of planets and their positions change as they orbit their parent planets.

Moons are abundant in our own solar system, with close to 200.

The Columbia astronomers directed the Hubble Space Telescope in October in an attempt to verify or rule out their findings.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The researchers have requested more time on Hubble to do more observations next May.

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