Thanks to modern technology, scientists have discovered hundreds of exoplanets beyond the solar system, and with these amazing discoveries come other discoveries.
Speaking of new discoveries, scientists have just confirmed another exoplanet with an exomoon companion, similar to Earth and the moon.
“Exomoons are far more challenging,” David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University and leader of the institution’s Cool Worlds Lab, said in a statement. “They are terra incognita.”
Based on numerous studies on the celestial objects over the past decade, Kipping along with his team has published a paper on Thursday in Nature Astronomy evidence of a supersized exomoon orbiting the exoplanet Kepler 1708b – a Jupiter-sized giant that’s about 5,500 light-years away from Earth.
Although the exomoon is yet to be officially classified because the process often goes through numerous scrutiny and peer-review.
“Those planets are alien compared to our home system,” he said. “But they have revolutionized our understanding of how planetary systems form.” In the same vein, finally proving the existence of exomoons could help scientists understand the dynamics of planet-moon systems, and one day even unveils moons’ role in supporting and sustaining life.
According to the findings, the newly-discovered “exomoon” is said to be approximately a third smaller one compared to other contenders but it’s possibly made of gas pulled together under gravity.
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.
“The first detections in any survey will generally be the weirdos, the big ones that are simply easiest to detect with our limited sensitivity,” Kipping said.
The process of locating an exoplanet often takes time and lots of effort because they’re not easy to find unless they intersect their host star’s light just like a Morse code showing up in space from Earth’s viewpoint whereby each dot represents planet blocking starlight.
As moons are much smaller than planets, it’s naturally harder to see when they block starlight. The Morse code, in a sense, is fainter. In fact, that’s why Kipping’s finding has earned some scrutiny — noticing these rare, foreign orbs doesn’t happen every day.
“It might just be a fluctuation in the data, either due to the star or instrumental noise,” Eric Agol, an astronomer at the University of Washington who wasn’t involved with the research, said in a statement.
Others, however, are optimistic about Kipping’s exomoon data. “This is science at its best,” Michael Hippke, an independent astronomer in Germany who also wasn’t involved in the research, said in a statement. “We find an intriguing object, make a prediction, and either confirm the exomoon candidate or rule it out with future observations.”