Since the ’90s, scientists all over the world have cataloged thousands of exoplanets in space. And they’ve made some incredible finds, like the planet that rains glass instead of water! However, we have yet to find an exoplanet with an exomoon, like our home planet’s moon. But, that all might change soon enough…
New Planetary Moon Spotted In Space
Why has it been so far to find a moon like ours? Well, as David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University, explains: “Exomoons are far more challenging; they are terra incognita.” That basically means they’re incredibly hard to find out there amid the vastness of space. How do they find possible exomoons? Well, astronomers search for specific signals when the moons cross their home star’s light path. Think of it a little like Morse code: we see the dots and dashes from Earth, with each dot representing a planet, moon, or something else.
So, you can see why it’s so hard to find planets with moons! However, Kipping and his team think they have discovered an exoplanet with its own moon! According to a recently published paper, the team found evidence of a large moon orbiting exoplanet Kepler 1708b, some 5,500 light-years away from Earth.
Returning to Kipping’s newly documented possible exomoon: it’s approximately a third smaller than his first contender. However, both are likely made of gas that piled up under the gravitational pull accompanying their heft, he says. They’re also each located relatively far from their respective host stars, another reason why Kipping believes they’re so big. Such distance means there’s less gravity present to strip down their layers.
Did They Find A Real Exomoon?
Sadly for Kipping and his team, the road to moon confirmation remains a long one. However, the astrologist knows his search is worth it. “Those planets are alien compared to our home system,” Kipping explained in a recent interview. “But they have revolutionized our understanding of how planetary systems form.” Likewise, proving the existence of exomoons could also help astronomers understand planetary systems. But most importantly, it could help the world realize what role moons play in keeping Earth healthy…
Meanwhile, because it remains so hard to find planets with moons, Kipping and his team’s findings have earned some scrutiny. “It might just be a fluctuation in the data, either due to the star or instrumental noise,” an astronomer at the University of Washington, Eric Agol, said.
However, many other astronomers are excited about Kipping’s latest research. “This is science at its best,” an independent astronomer in Germany who was not involved in the study, Michael Hippke, said. “We find an intriguing object, make a prediction, and either confirm the exomoon candidate or rule it out with future observations.”