Exomoon: Is the Smaller Object Orbiting that Larger Planet?

Witten by award-winning author, scientist and adventurer Mark Kingston Levin PhD

Figure 1. David Kipping and Alex Teachey of Columbia University trained Hubble to find Exomoons. Credit A. Teachey and D.M. Kipping. Evidence for a large exomoon orbiting Kepler 1625b. Science Advances. Published online October 3, 2018.

Is this above photo data showing the first suspected exomoon? It is to be determined in May 2019 when it will come into focus again. Hubble Space Telescope will determine the case for a Neptune-sized moon orbiting a Jupiter-sized gas giant about 8,000 light-years away. Scientists reported this possibility October 3 in Science Advances. If confirmed, the data might show a new challenge to those making theories about how moons are created.

David Kipping and Alex Teachey are astronomers at Columbia University. These two men pointed Hubble on the star Kepler 1625 for 40 hours on October 28 and 29, 2017 to look for exomoons. This sun-like star was known to have a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting it every 287 days according to observations by the Kepler space telescope, which detects dips in starlight that indicate a planet is transiting in front of the star.

“Teachey and Kipping had seen signs in the Kepler data of a second dimming, either before or after the planet passed — exactly what they would expect if an exomoon were orbiting the planet” (SN: 8/19/17, p. 15). The pair named the putative moon Kepler 1625b, or “Neptmoon” for short; however, the astronomers need more data to be sure if it is a moon, not another planet or activity on the star.

Figure 2. David Kipping PhD, age 33, is looking for Exomoons in the data. Credit University of Columbia

Figure 3. Alex Teachey is currently at Columbia University as a PhD candidate

The Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK), which searches for exomoons in two ways, radial-velocity variation and transit-timing variation, is based on changes to the basic signal produced by the planet. The time interval change as a Planet transits its host star may be made slightly shorter or longer under the gravitational influence of a moon. The second method can reveal the exomoon’s existence. The satellite Kepler used several selected planet candidates as search targets. A paper was published in 2013 which examined seven of the best planet candidates; however, this revealed no moons.

Figure 4. The Rosette Nebula is located about 5,000 light years away at the edge of the molecular cloud Unicorn, also known as the Monoceros constellation. It is my favorite part of the sky. Credit NASA and Bell Aerospace

These results are somewhat consistent with exomoons existing. Still, “(W)e’re not cracking open champagne bottles just yet,” Teachey said in an Oct. 1 news conference. The team wants to check with Hubble again, hopefully during the next transit in May 2019, he said. “Things look exciting, tantalizing, maybe compelling.” However, Hubble is near the end of its expected life, so let us hope it will last.

René Heller, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, says the data analysis is impressive. I remain skeptical about the exomoon’s existence. We must wait for more data. Currently, there are only three methods for the creation of moons. None of them allow for the creation of Neptune size. However, that is according to human theories. Nature often surprises us.

Figure 5. The photo CCD of the Kepler instrument is small compared to what will launch in 2020. I think we need to use state of the art equipment in Hubble and in James Web, which is seven times as powerful as Hubble. Credit NASA and Ball Aerospace – http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/multimedia/images/kepler-focal-plane-assembly.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6113250

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2018-12-10T22:05:57-08:00 October 31st, 2018|Blog, Space|