Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have found the first compelling evidence for a Neptune-sized moon orbiting a giant gas planet 8,000 light-years away. The detection of the candidate exomoon -- moons orbiting planets in other star systems -- is unusual because of its large size, comparable to the diameter of Neptune. Such gargantuan moons do not exist in our own solar system, where nearly 200 natural satellites have been catalogued.
First evidence of moon outside our solar system: Astronomers
Astronomers first found exoplanets -- planets outside our own Solar System -- 30 years ago. However, the search for moons orbiting these exoplanets was not successful -- until today. "This would be the first case of detecting a moon outside our solar system," said David Kipping, Assistant Professor at the Columbia University in New York.
The observations measured the momentary dimming of starlight as a planet passed in front of its star, called a transit. The researchers found one instance, in Kepler 1625b, that had intriguing anomalies. "We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention," Kipping said, in the paper reported in the journal Science Advances. The moon is estimated to be only 1.5 per cent the mass of its companion planet, which itself estimated to be several times the mass of Jupiter.
This value is close to the mass-ratio between the Earth and its moon. Like its moon, Kepler-1625b is also bigger than its counterparts in the Solar System. The exoplanet is a gas giant, several times more massive than Jupiter. It orbits its parent star at a distance similar to the distance between the Sun and Earth, which puts it -- and its candidate moon -- at the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star system.