Astronomers may have found the first moon outside our solar system

An artist's impression of the exoplanet Kepler-1625b transiting the star with the newly discovered exomoon in tow is shown in this image released

Further efforts to find exomoons will likely focus on Jupiter-sized planets that orbit their stars at distances greater than the Earth orbits the Sun. While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful - until today.

David Kipling, assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia University, said that this is such a case when such a moon was detected out of our solar system. "And if validated, the planet-moon system-a Jupiter with a Neptune-sized moon-would be a remarkable system with unanticipated properties, in many ways echoing the unexpected discovery of hot Jupiters in the early days of planet hunting".

NASA's Hubble and Kepler space telescopes have uncovered what could be the first moon outside our solar system ever found.

"A companion moon is the simplest and most natural explanation for the second dip in the light curve and the orbit-timing deviation", said Alex Teachey, a graduate student at Columbia University and one of the researchers on the project. They will use the Hubble Space Telescope for more observations in May 2019 to confirm their finding. The exomoon is estimated to be roughly the size of Neptune, the smallest of our solar system's four gas planets, with a diameter of about 30,600 miles (49,000 km).

Although the object itself can not be seen, there are hints it exists, according to the researchers: The planet moves around its star in a way that indicates something else is pulling on it gravitationally, probably a moon.

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.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, also provided supporting evidence for the moon by discovering the planet began its transit 75 minutes earlier than predicted.

So last October, the pair directed the Hubble Space Telescope at the star in an attempt to verify - or rule out - the possibility of a moon orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b.

As the planet moved in front of the star, the star's light dimmed too much.

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There are no moons anywhere near this size in our solar system.

"We noticed a certain refractive index, and deviations in the light curve that caught our attention", explained KPMG. Or they look for a minuscule wobble in the motion of a star, caused by the gravitational tug of its orbiting planet (the radial method).

"Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the moon could be measured", Kipping said.

Although the planet and its possible moon are within the habitable zone of their star, both are considered to be gas giants and "unsuitable for life as we know it", Kipping said.

"You do sometimes form moons that big through the coalescing of disk material", Kipping said. Of the eight planets, only mercury and Venus they are not.

Clearly, an exomoon may contribute an additional transit signal of its own, but for an object comparable in size to the Earth's moon, the extra dimming will only amount to around ten parts per million - making it hard to detect.

Scientists called it "absolunet" by analogy with the name of earth-like planets orbiting other stars.

"But going forward, I think we're opening the doors to finding worlds like that", Teachey said.

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