Nav: Home

Hubble finds compelling evidence for a moon outside the Solar System

October 03, 2018

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.

The hunt for exoplanets -- planets outside our own Solar System -- provided its first results only 30 years ago. While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful -- until today.

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. "This may yield new insights into the development of planetary systems and may cause astronomers to revisit theories of how moons form," Alex Teachey, a graduate student who led the study, explained excitedly [1].

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 [2]. 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 [3].

To find evidence for the existence of the exomoon, the team observed the planet while it was in transit in front of its parent star, causing a dimming of the starlight. "We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention," David Kipping, second author of the study, said.

The planet was observed by Hubble before and during its 19-hour-long transit. After the transit ended, Hubble detected a second and much smaller decrease in the star's brightness approximately 3.5 hours later, consistent with the effect of a moon trailing the planet. "It was definitely a shocking moment to see that light curve -- my heart started beating a little faster and I just kept looking at that signature," David Kipping described his feelings. Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the moon could be captured.

In addition to this second dip in the light curve, Hubble provided compelling supporting evidence for the moon hypothesis by detecting the planet's transit more than an hour earlier than predicted. This is consistent with a model of the system in which the planet and its moon orbit a common centre of gravity, causing the planet to wobble away from its predicted location [4].

In principle this anomaly could also be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system, but the Kepler Space Telescope found no evidence for additional planets around the star during its four year mission. Still, further observations by Hubble are needed to fully confirm the existence of Kepler-1625b-i.

"If confirmed, Kepler-1625b-i will certainly provide an interesting puzzle for theorists to solve," said Kipping. Teachey concluded: "It is an exciting reminder of how little we really know about distant planetary systems and the great spirit of discovery exoplanetary science embodies."
-end-
Notes

[1] The moons of Jupiter and Saturn likely formed through the agglomeration into a disc of material orbiting the planets, so it is possible that this exomoon also formed in a circumplanetary disc. Another possibility is that a passing object was captured by the planet's gravity. Tidal forces between the two objects would rob momentum from the less massive companion and eventually pull it into a permanent orbit. There are no indications of tidal capture among our Solar System's moons. In the case of the Earth-Moon system, an early collision with a larger body is hypothesised to have blasted off material that later coalesced into a moon. However, Kepler-1625b and its candidate moon are gaseous, not rocky, so such a collision would not have led to the condensation of a satellite.

[2] Despite its size, the mass of the candidate moon is estimated to be only 1.5 percent of the mass of its companion planet. This value is close to the mass ratio between Earth and the Moon.

[3] While both the planet and its candidate moon are within the habitable zone, where moderate temperatures allow for the existence of liquid water, both bodies are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it.

[4] A distant observer watching the Earth and Moon transit the Sun would note similar anomalies in the timing of Earth's transit.

More information

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The results were presented in the paper Evidence for a large exomoon orbiting Kepler-1625b in the journal Science Advances.

The team of astronomers in this study consists of Alex Teachey and David M. Kipping (Columbia University, New York, USA).

Image credit: NASA, ESA

Links

Contacts

Alex Teachey
Columbia University
New York, USA
Email: ateachey@astro.columbia.edu

David M. Kipping
Columbia University
New York, USA
Email: dkipping@astro.columbia.edu

Mathias Jäger
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 176 62397500
Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

ESA/Hubble Information Centre

Related Solar System Articles:

Pressure runs high at edge of solar system
Out at the boundary of our solar system, pressure runs high.
What a dying star's ashes tell us about the birth of our solar system
A UA-led team of researchers discovered a dust grain forged in a stellar explosion before our solar system was born.
What scientists found after sifting through dust in the solar system
Two recent studies report discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system: a dust ring at Mercury's orbit, and a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with Venus, supplying the dust in Venus' orbit.
Discovered: The most-distant solar system object ever observed
A team of astronomers has discovered the most-distant body ever observed in our solar system.
Discovery of the first body in the Solar System with an extrasolar origin
Asteroid 2015 BZ509 is the very first object in the Solar System shown to have an extrasolar origin.
First interstellar immigrant discovered in the solar system
A new study has discovered the first known permanent immigrant to our solar system.
A star disturbed the comets of the solar system in prehistory
About 70,000 years ago, when the human species was already on Earth, a small reddish star approached our solar system and gravitationally disturbed comets and asteroids.
Scientists detect comets outside our solar system
Scientists from MIT and other institutions, working closely with amateur astronomers, have spotted the dusty tails of six exocomets -- comets outside our solar system -- orbiting a faint star 800 light years from Earth.
Does the organic material of comets predate our solar system?
The Rosetta space probe discovered a large amount of organic material in the nucleus of comet 'Chury.' In an article published by MNRAS on Aug.
Tracking a solar eruption through the solar system
Ten spacecraft, from ESA's Venus Express to NASA's Voyager-2, felt the effect of a solar eruption as it washed through the solar system while three other satellites watched, providing a unique perspective on this space weather event.
More Solar System News and Solar System Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.