Hubble Telescope Supports Evidence of Distant Exomoon

Carlton Robbins
October 7, 2018

A Jupiter-sized body with a Neptune-sized moon is unlike anything scientists have seen before.

No such giant moons exist in Earth's solar system. They will use the Hubble Space Telescope for more observations in May 2019 to confirm their finding.

Kipping has spent a decade working on the "exomoon hunt". But the results are delayed due to the limits of detection with current techniques.

"The first eczema is an extraordinary statement that requires extraordinary proof", said the astronomer, Columbia University David KPMG. They believe it's orbiting a gas giant.

Over the last 20 years or so, over 2,000 exoplanets - planets outside our solar system - have been spotted and identified.

First Known Exomoon DiscoveredLast year, an worldwide team of researchers analyzed data from 284 exoplanets that were discovered by Kepler Space Telescope.

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 new observations made with Hubble show compelling evidence for a large exomoon orbiting the only known planet of Kepler-1625.

"We noticed a certain refractive index, and deviations in the light curve that caught our attention", explained Kipping. The team held a 40-hour surveillance on the Hubble Space telescope for further study.

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The researchers monitored the planet before and during its 19-hour-long transit across the face of the star. With his help, they found a second, much smaller depressions in the brightness of the star through 3.5 hours after the transit of the planet. It was like "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash", Kipping said.

Unfortunately, the scientists' time on Hubble ended before they could completely observe the second transit.

The host planet and its moon lie within the solar mass star's (Kepler 1625) habitable zone, where moderate temperatures allow for the existence of liquid water on any solid planetary surface. This is interpreted as a so-called transit timing variation, caused by an unaccounted for gravitational tug on the planet by an unseen body. For about four years he examined two signals suggestive of an exomoon in the data from several transits.

"It was a shocking moment to see that light curve, my heart started beating a little faster and I just kept looking at that signature", he continued. "But we knew our job was to keep a level head and essentially assume it was bogus, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us". Because it's a gaseous moon circling a gas giant, it's possible-but unlikely-that it was formed like our moon when a cosmic collision broke a chunk off its host planet. In this search, a moon would have been among the easiest to detect because of its large size.

Such gargantuan moons do not exist in our own solar system, where almost 200 natural satellites have been catalogued, said researchers from the Columbia University in the US.

For Teachey and Kipping, the best and simplest explanation is that Kepler-1625b has a moon. Of the eight planets in our solar system, only Mercury and Venus have none. They also shift position with each orbit.

Still, moons orbiting around other planets may not be all that unusual.

KIPPING: So when we look for an Earth twin, I think one of the most obvious things you might ask is, does it have a moon twin, because that seems to have a large influence.

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