Astronomers have found a second Month beyond our Solar system

An illustration shows a moon orbiting around a planet as the pair cross the face of their host star

The planet it orbits is as big as mammoth Jupiter. And, if the existence of this exomoon is confirmed, it could mean we should be looking for life not only on planets but on moons as well.

In search of exomoons, Alex Teachey and David Kipping, astronomers at Columbia University in NY, analyzed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets that were in comparatively wide orbits, longer than 30 days, around their host star.

It orbits its parent star at a distance similar to the distance between the Sun and Earth, which puts it - and its candidate moon - at the inner edge of the habitable zone of the star system. KPMG and his colleague Alex Tichy made their discovery based on the more than 300 distant planets, which were discovered using the space telescope Kepler. They were on the lookout for a second temporary dimming of starlight. So such a dip in a star's brightness is a "light signature" of an exoplanet. While astronomers now find these planets on a regular basis, the search for moons orbiting exoplanets wasn't successful - until today.

"Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the moon could be measured", Kipping said.

He added: "The first exomoon is obviously an extraordinary claim and it requires extraordinary evidence".

"We can expect to see really tiny moons with Webb", Teachey said. In our sky, it would appear two times bigger than Earth's moon, the researchers said.

But the astronomers are careful to emphasize that this is only a candidate moon.

Hubble was also able to measure that the planet began its transit earlier than expected, consistent with the "wobble" that occurs when a planet and moon orbit the same center of gravity. A moon could cause that kind of an uncertain, wobbly path, they noted.

Hubble watched the star as the planet passed in front of it, blocking some of its light.

Although the moon itself can not be seen, there are hints it exists, according to the researchers: The planet moves around its star in a way that indicates something else is pulling on it gravitationally, probably a moon.

But Kepler found no evidence for additional planets around the star during its four-year mission, said the researchers. Kepler-1625b-i is roughly the size of our own ice giant Neptune. While Kepler has not detected a second planet in the system, it could be that the planet is there, but not detectable using Kepler's techniques.

Their findings are described in a paper published this week by the journal Science Advances.

Kipping has spent a decade working on the "exomoon hunt".

"If this finding stands up to further observational scrutiny, it represents a major milestone in the field of astronomy", Hodges said.

No such giant moons exist in Earth's solar system. In the meantime, they are encouraging other researchers and astronomers to join in as the subject offers insight into how rare our solar system is. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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. This could explain why the moon is 3 million kilometers from its planet; they were probably closer in the past.

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