Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and older data from the Kepler Space Telescope two astronomers have found the first compelling evidence for a moon outside our own Solar System. The data indicate an exomoon the size of Neptune, in a stellar system 8000 light-years from Earth. The new results are presented in the journal Science Advances.
[...] In 2017 NASA's Kepler Space Telescope detected hints of an exomoon orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b. Now, two scientists from Columbia University in New York (USA) have used the incomparable capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the star Kepler-1625, 8000 light-years away, and its planet in more detail. The new observations made with Hubble show compelling evidence for a large exomoon orbiting the only known planet of Kepler-1625. If confirmed, this would be the first discovery of a moon outside our Solar System.
The candidate moon, with the designation Kepler-1625b-i, is unusual because of its large size; it is comparable in diameter to the planet Neptune. Such gargantuan moons are unknown in our own Solar System.
Other sources put Kepler-1625 at around 4,000 light years away.
Discoveries like this are why we could use as many identical better-than-Hubble space telescopes as we can build and launch.
Evidence for a large exomoon orbiting Kepler-1625b (open, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1784) (DX)
New Scientist, on authority of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reports that the first moon outside of our solar system may have been discovered.
It is not yet clear what double object MOA-2011-BLG-262 is: it may be a rogue planet with a massive moon about 1800 light years from Earth, or a faint star (brown or red dwarf) with a Neptune-sized planet much further away.
The discovery was made by telescopes in New Zealand and Tasmania during a micro-lensing event in 2011. Since the micro-lensing event is over and we don't know the distance of the double object, we can not distinguish between both possibilities.
(The discovery was published late 2013, but it is making mainstream news now.)
A team of astronomers has potentially discovered the first known moon beyond the Solar System. If confirmed, the "exomoon" is likely to be about the size and mass of Neptune, and circles a planet the size of Jupiter but with 10 times the mass.
The signal was detected by Nasa's Kepler Space Telescope; astronomers now plan to carry out follow-up observations with Hubble in October. A paper about the candidate moon is published on the Arxiv pre-print site.
[...] The Kepler telescope hunts for planets by looking for tiny dips in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front - known as a transit. To search for exomoons, researchers are looking for a dimming of starlight before and after the planet causes its dip in light. The promising signal was observed during three transits - fewer than the astronomers would like to have in order to confidently announce a discovery.
The host star, Kepler-1625, is about 4,000 light years away. The potential exomoon, Kepler 1625b i, has been nicknamed "Nept-moon".
Also at ScienceNews.
The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (please update your site).
Up until now, NASA has never paid too much attention to Uranus – but now the space agency wants to take a good, long look. And one of the things it might be investigating is all that gas. A NASA group outlined four possible missions to the ice giants Uranus and Neptune.
These missions include three orbiters and a possible fly-by of Uranus. The planned probes would take off in the 2030s, New Scientist reports.
[...] One of the proposed missions includes a fly-by of Uranus, which would include a narrow-angle camera – and a probe which would drop into Uranus's atmosphere to measure gas and heavy elements. There are four proposed missions. Three orbiters and a fly-by of Uranus, which would include a narrow angle camera to draw out details, especially of the ice giant's moons. It would also drop an atmospheric probe to take a dive into Uranus's atmosphere to measure the levels of gas and heavy elements there.
A good exomoon is hard to find. Proving that the first purported moon around an exoplanet actually exists could take up to a decade, its discoverers say.
"We're running into some difficult problems in terms of confirming the presence of this thing," said astronomer Alex Teachey of Columbia University at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on January 10.
[...] That uncertainty is partly because the purported moon seems to be about the size of Neptune, much larger than moon formation theories predict. And the researchers can't rule out that the evidence of the moon isn't actually evidence of a second planet. "We're trying to be very careful about not calling this a discovery, that we've got this beyond a shadow of a doubt," Teachey said.
[...] Ground-based telescopes are trying to confirm if the object is a moon or a second planet based on the object's gravitational tugs on the known planet. That's a much slower process than looking for dips in light from exoplanets and exomoons passing in front of their stars, which is what the Hubble and Kepler data reveal, and could take five to 10 years, Teachey says.
Headline News: Object Not Found.
After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets - more planets even than stars - NASA's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.
"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars."
Despite an explosion of exoplanet discoveries since the 1990s, astronomers have not confirmed the discovery of a single exomoon. In fact, only around a dozen exomoon candidates have been put forward up to now.
In 2018, David Kipping (Columbia University) and Alex Teachey (now at Academia Sinica, Taiwan) were the first, tentatively reporting a possible Neptune-radius moon about 7,800 light-years from Earth: Kepler-1625 b-i. Now, the astronomers and other colleagues have announced the discovery of another exomoon, published January 14th in Nature Astronomy. However, just as before, they urge both caution and the need for further observations.
The putative exomoon, designated Kepler-1708 b-i, was found 5,700 light-years away, orbiting a Jupiter-size planet around a star similar to the Sun. The planet is on a Mars-like orbit, at about 1.6 astronomical units (a.u.). Its moon orbits about 12 planetary radii away, similar to Europa's distance from Jupiter. Unlike Europa, though, Kepler-1708 b-i is huge, about 2.5 times Earth's size. This means the moon would be unlike any satellite in our solar system.
David Kipping, Steve Bryson, Chris Burke, et al. An exomoon survey of 70 cool giant exoplanets and the new candidate Kepler-1708 b-i [open], Nature Astronomy (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01539-1)
Yet another observation to add onto JWST's schedule.
Also at Scientific American.
Previously: First Exo-Moon Discovered?
First Known Exomoon May Have Been Detected: Kepler 1625b i
New Evidence Supports Existence of Neptune-Sized Exomoon Orbiting Kepler-1625b
Exomoon Confirmation Remains Elusive