This Week In Science: Potential First Exo-Moon Discovery

Recently two astronomers, David Kipping and Alex Teachey, may just have discovered the first exomoon. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits around a star that is not our sun. An exomoon is a large celestial mass that orbits around an exoplanet, or in other words, a moon that does not orbit any of the planets in our solar system. 

Using the Kepler space telescope, Kipping and Teachey have been searching for far out moons around planets for a long time. When Kipping and Teachey were looking at an exoplanet, Kepler 1625b, which is many times larger than Jupiter; which is about 71,440 km. Both Kipping and Teachey noticed strange anomalies in their transit data; a transit is when planets, or celestial masses are revealed after passing in front of their host star. “We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention,” Kipping said.

After this discovery the two astronomers were granted time to use the Hubble space telescope to investigate this strange phenomena further. Using the telescope, they noticed shortly after the first transit, a slightly dimmer transit, which suggests that there is a moon, or larger mass following the planet. Both Kepler 1625b and its potential moon are not like the regular rocky planets and moons you would expect. Both are large gaseous masses. Because the exomoon is predicted to be gaseous, it leads to interesting questions about how the Neptune sized moon even formed in the first place. Considering the distance the “Nept-moon” is from its neighbouring star, the exomoon has a predicted surface temperature of about 80 Centigrade or 176 Fahrenheit. 

 To make an extraordinary claim that the first exomoon has been discovered, requires extraordinary evidence. Currently, the evidence is being reviewed for confirmation. 

It really is a fascinating discovery because the universe is known to be infinite, with trillions of trillions of stars, and trillions of planets orbiting many of those stars. To find out that we have not seen a moon outside the solar system really shows that we are only looking into one small glass of water from a vastly large ocean. Revelations like this open the world to many more unique discoveries that have yet to be seen in the universe or even considered as possibilities to look for. I am excited that the first exomoon has potentially been discovered, because if only our solar system has moons then that would be way too surreal to make sense.