Astronomers Discover Evidence of Super-Sized Moon Orbiting a Jupiter-Sized Planet Beyond Our Solar System - SciTechDaily
Jan 14, 2022 1 min, 58 secs

The discovery of a second exomoon candidate hints at the possibility that exomoons may be as common as exoplanets.

Astronomers have reported a second, super-sized moon orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet beyond our solar system.

The first-ever sighting of an exomoon four years ago is still awaiting confirmation, and verification of this newest candidate could be as equally long and contentious.

The discovery, published in Nature Astronomy, was led by David Kipping and his Cool Worlds Lab at Columbia University, which reported the first exomoon candidate in 2018.

The team spotted the giant exomoon candidate orbiting the planet Kepler 1708b, a world 5,500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the Cygnus and Lyra constellations.

This new candidate is about a third smaller than the Neptune-sized moon that Kipping and his colleagues earlier found orbiting a similar Jupiter-sized planet, Kepler 1625b.

Both supermoon candidates are likely made of gas that has piled up under the gravitational pull caused by their enormous size, said Kipping.

If one astronomer’s hypothesis is correct, the moons may have even started life as planets, only to be pulled into the orbit of an even bigger planet like Kepler 1625b or 1708b.

In fact, the researchers sought out cold, giant gas planets on wide orbits in their search for exomoons precisely because the analog in our own solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, have more than a hundred moons between them.

If other moons are out there, they will likely be less monstrous, but also harder to spot, said Kipping.

In the current study, the researchers looked at the sample of the coldest gas giant planets captured by NASA’s planet-hunting spacecraft, Kepler.

After scanning 70 planets in depth, they found just one candidate — Kepler 1708b — with a moon-like signal.

“It’s a stubborn signal,” said Kipping.

“I am very excited to see a second exomoon candidate, although it is unfortunate that only two transits have been observed,” he added.

But the search is worth it, said Kipping, as he recalled how the existence of exoplanets was greeted with the same skepticism as exomoons are today.

Reference: “An Exomoon Survey of 70 Cool, Giant Exoplanets and the New Candidate Kepler-1708b-i” by David Kipping, Steve Bryson, Chris Burke, Jessie Christiansen, Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, Billy Quarles, Brad Hansen, Judit Szulágyi and Alex Teachey, 13 January 2022, Nature Astronomy

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