First-Ever Exomoon Discovery Stuns Astronomers

Friday, 10 November 2017 - 11:17AM
Astronomy
Friday, 10 November 2017 - 11:17AM
First-Ever Exomoon Discovery Stuns Astronomers
Image credit: YouTube
This is the kind of discovery that changes everything we think we know about the universe.

Astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets (planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system), but so far the count on exomoons discovered sits at zero. Finding one could mean finding signs of extraterrestrial life, and a team at Columbia University is hopeful that with new Hubble Space Telescope data, they are on the right track.

A team led by David Kipping and Alex Teachey has announced the sighting of an exomoon candidate orbiting an exoplanet in the Kepler 1625-b system back in July, and this past weekend they used Hubble to get a closer look.

"Looking forward to getting data to either confirm or deny this candidate soon," Kipping told CNET in an email.

Studying the data could take several months, and there have been cases of false positives in the past caused by instrument glitches, so Kipping and his team are remaining "cautious."

Research published in 2014 showed that exomoons have the potential to be habitable, like the Forest Moon of Endor where the Ewoks live in Return of the Jedi.

Kipping and his team are not expecting to find an army of vicious fur warriors by studying the Hubble data, but confirmation of the exomoon's existence does open a lot of doors.

When the exomoon candidate was first observed, Kipping and his team almost kept the news to themselves.

"It wasn't something we were planning on announcing, because at this point it's only a candidate," he said.

"It really only takes the slightest misstep in our language to miscommunicate the reality of what we have." A colleague noticed that the team had requested more time with the telescope and tweeted about it, and the resulting speculation is what prompted them to share the news.

It will be a disappointment to some if, after months of studying the new data, Kipping and his team come up empty-handed and we don't find Ewoks, but that won't stop astronomers from looking. Yub nub!
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Space
Astronomy
First-Ever Exomoon Discovery Stuns Astronomers
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