Astronomers have just discovered a giant moon completely different from the planets we have seen in the solar system. This moon is blue, orbiting a giant planet, 5,500 light-years from Earth.

2nd super giant moon

This is the 2nd extrasolar moon identified so far, it orbits a Jupiter-sized planet called Kepler 1708b, located 5,500 light-years from Earth. A study detailing these findings was published Thursday in the journal Nature Astronomy. The newly found object is 2.6 times larger than Earth and there is no equally large planet in the solar system, our familiar moon is only quite modest in size, smaller than Earth 3.7 times.

It's also the second time a team led by David Kipping, assistant professor of astronomy and head of the Columbia University Laboratory, has found an "exomoon candidate," or "potential extrasolar natural satellite." ". Before that, in 2018, scientists found an even larger "supermoon", about the size of Neptune, orbiting a giant planet called Kepler-1625b, several times more massive. Jupiter and 8,000 light years away from us.

"Astronomers have found more than 10,000 exomoon candidates to date, but exomoons are much more challenging," says Kipping . Life-supporting or not, if they play a role in the potential habitability of planets, they will provide us with many useful insights into how planetary systems form and evolve.

An object that is very difficult to reach

Kipping and his team are still working to confirm that the first exomoon candidate they found is indeed a supermoon, and this newer discovery will likely face the same difficulties.

Our solar system has more than 200 natural satellites and moons are quite common in our solar system, but the long search that astronomers have conducted for interstellar moons why mostly no results. Locating exoplanets around stars outside the solar system is thought to have been successful, but supermoons are more difficult to locate due to their size.

Currently, there are more than 4,000 exoplanets discovered across the galaxy, but finding them is not easy. Many of these planets have been discovered using transitions or searches based on "dents" in a star's light as a planet passes in front of its star, and finding a smaller moon in starlight is much more difficult.

To find this potential second moon, Kipping and his team used data from the " Kepler planet hunter ," an aging NASA instrument to survey the most distant exoplanets that the telescope has ever discovered. astronomy is accessible. This criterion is supposed to be effective for searching because in our solar system, giant stars like Jupiter and Saturn have the most moons orbiting them.

Theories about how this moon formed

This newly discovered Exomoon candidate also shares many similarities with Kipping's first discovery. Both are gaseous, account for most of their massive size, and are very distant from their host star.

Researchers have hypothesized three basic theories about how this moon formed. One is when large space objects collide and the exploding matter becomes the moon. The second is when an object is pulled close to a large planet and orbits it - such as Neptune's moon Triton, which is thought to be an occupied Kuiper Belt object. Ultimately, the way it might have formed is from pre-existing materials such as gas and dust swirling around stars, like the planets in the early solar system.

Most likely, both exomoon candidates started out as planets being pulled into orbits around larger planets like Kepler 1625b and Kepler 1708b.

These "super-giant" moons may be an anomaly

Kipping believes it is very, very unlikely that all the moons outside our solar system are as large as the two candidates mentioned above. This also makes them "odd" planets by the norm.

These two exomoon candidates are confirmed to be the next Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope observations in 2023. Kipping and his team continue to gather evidence of exomoons.

The fact that each associated planet takes more than an Earth year to complete one orbit around its star will slow down the discovery process. "Confirmation required repeating the moon observation process many times," Kipping said .

If we accept that supermoons are as common as planets beyond our solar system, this could be the start of a new research journey. The first exoplanets were not discovered until the 1990s, and most of them remained unknown until Kepler's launch in 2009.

"Those planets are very alien to the solar system, but we've really revolutionized our understanding of how planetary systems form."

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