Scientific First: New Moon Outside Solar System

By Lauren Blake ’20

According to BBC News, astronomers have discovered a new moon — also called an “exomoon” — outside of our solar system. The moon was discovered as a result of NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft and viewed through the Hubble telescope. The exomoon is the size of Neptune and revolves around a planet equivalent to the size of Jupiter, but additionally has 10 times its mass.

    Astronomers David Kipping and Alex Teachey were tasked with the significant astronomical research of searching for other exomoons. The scientists analyzed the orbital motions of planet Kepler 1625b passing its parent star. This 19-hour process of circling is known as a transit, which obstructs the light coming from the star. In order to find the exomoon, Kipping and Teachey looked for two signals from numerous transits. The first sign was a drop in the parent star’s brightness when the exomoon passed in front of it. The second was a pause when the planet moved in front of the star.

    Although Kipping and Teachey have published their findings in the Science Advances Journal, they clarify that more research and observations about the exomoon need to be taken. “We’ve tried our best to rule out other possibilities such as spacecraft anomalies, other planets in the system or stellar activity, but we’re unable to find any other single hypothesis which can explain all of the data we have,” said Dr. Kipping, from Columbia University.

    In recent years, astronomers have found more than 3,500 exoplanets or worlds circling the stars that are not the Sun. However, scientists have had an arduous struggle trying to find exomoons due to their undetectability by modern methods because of their distance. This recent discover is considered a significant scientific accomplishment. Hopefully, we can look forward to seeing more discoveries of planetary bodies outside of our Solar System.

Featured graphic by Rebecca Chen ’22

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