December 13, 2018

New Moon Rising

“Scientists may have detected the first moon orbiting a planet in a far-off solar system, though they caution that they still want to confirm the finding with another round of telescope observations.

“The fact is, it’s so strange and it’s the first of its kind,” says David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University. “That demands a higher level of rigor and skepticism than you would normally apply to a run-of-the-mill detection.”

Still, he and colleague Alex Teachey say in the journal Science Advances that they have good evidence that a Neptune-size moon is orbiting a Jupiter-like planet, in a solar system about 8,000 light-years away.

That planet, called Kepler-1625b, is one of thousands that scientists have recently detected around distant stars. No one, however, has ever conclusively found an alien moon.

Kipping has spent the past decade or so working to do just that. He points out that our moon — the one with the astronaut footprints — does more than just inspire poets. Earth’s companion keeps our planet’s tilt stable and affects the tides. “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,” he notes.”

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