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First exomoon spotted 4000 light years away?

Posted on 28/07/2017

Professor Dave Waltham from the Department of Earth Sciences has been quoted in the media about the potential exomoon discovery

A team of astronomers has potentially discovered the first known moon beyond the Solar System, an exciting development first announced by BBC Science and New Scientist magazine, with expert comments provided by Professor of Geophysics,  David Waltham from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The signal was detected by Nasa's Kepler Space Telescope and an international team of scientists are now planning to carry out follow-up observations with the Hubble Space Telescope in the Autumn. If confirmed, the "exomoon" is likely to be about the size and mass of Neptune, and circles a planet the size of Jupiter but with 10 times the mass.

 “If there really is something there, it’s such a faint star that it’d have to be a planet-sized moon for them to have seen it transit,” David Waltham commented. “It would be spectacularly different than anything we see in the solar system.”

Because there are so many diverse moons in our solar system, most astronomers assume that there are lots of moons around more distant planets as well. “I think we’re pretty sure that they’re going to be there,” says Professor Waltham. “It would be pretty odd that there are hundreds of moons in the solar system but none anywhere else.”

A paper about the candidate moon is published on the Arxiv pre-print site.

Dr David Kipping, assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia University in New York, has spent "most of his adult life" looking for exomoons. If Kipping and the team are able to verify this detection, as well as being the first exomoon we’ve ever seen, it would be a much larger moon than we’ve ever seen before. This indicates that there may be even more types of moon than the many we’ve already observed.

 “It may prove to be nothing, or it may prove to be a really fabulous discovery,” says David Waltham. “We won’t know until the Hubble data comes back.”

Read the full article in New Scientist.

Professor David Waltham is the author of 'Lucky Planet' featuring his published research on what makes planet Earth so special, which seamlessly weaves the story of Earth and the worlds orbiting other stars to give us a new perspective of the surprising role chance plays in our place in the universe.

Find out more about research and study opportunities in the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway.



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