Astronomers might have found the first-ever “exomoon” in history, an alien moon orbiting around an exoplanet.
According to a report from BGR, the findings were made based on data from the famed Kepler Space Telescope, as researchers studied the star codenamed Kepler-1625. The researchers were able to detect regular downticks in the brightness emitted by the star, suggesting that a planet was present, but more interestingly, suggesting that a moon may have also been present. When the planet crossed paths with the star, the brightness declined even more; this led astronomers to theorize that there was a moon blocking out extra light on a regular basis.
Although there is a chance that the exomoon discovery might be an erroneous one after all, the researchers believe that the chances of this are very small, with only a one in 16,000 chance their readings might not be correct. But if the alien moon does indeed exist, it will be a rather large one, approximately the same size as Neptune, or about four times larger than Earth. The planet it orbits is also quite a sizable one, as estimates suggest it is similar in size to Jupiter.
Still, a report from National Geographic suggests that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done before the exomoon is confirmed as such. Specifically, the researchers believe that some “Hubble time” is needed — that would mean using the Hubble Space Telescope in October 2017 to focus on the alien moon’s home planet to see if they can get a consistent signal.
“This candidate is intriguing, and we obviously feel good enough about it that we’ve asked for Hubble time,” said Columbia University graduate student Alex Teachey, a co-author on the new study.
“But we want to be crystal clear that we are not claiming a detection at this point.”
All signs, however, are pointing to the exomoon discovery as a potential “coup” for Kepler, yet another one to add to its growing list of achievements since its 2009 launch. As National Geographic noted, the observatory has discovered over 2,000 “Kepler planets” and about 4,000 planet candidates, and those numbers are still growing on a consistent basis. Last month, astronomers were able to spot 219 additional candidate planets, including some worlds that may potentially be Earth-like in terms of their features.
There is a chance, however, that the potential exomoon discovery won’t be the first sign of an alien moon ever picked up by Kepler. National Geographic added that Columbia University astronomer David Kipping, also a co-author on the new study, has been working on a campaign called the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler since 2012, as he and his fellow researchers sift through previous data from the observatory for evidence of alien moons.
[Featured Image by sdecoret/Shutterstock]