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Did We Find an 'Exomoon?'

May 3, 2018


The Moon - Earth’s personal little piece of space. We’re obsessed with it, and who could blame us?


A while back in 2014, astronomers claimed that they’ve observed what they think is the first known exomoon, that is, a moon orbiting an exoplanet.


The details however are kind of blurry, so much so that the astronomers aren’t even very confident about their discovery. They think they could have seen either an exoplanet with a moon, or a small, dim star being orbited by a planet. But either way, their observation was a big step toward finding exomoons in the future.


Exomoons are really hard to find because they’re so small and faint. Even small exoplanets can be nearly impossible to spot because, they get lost in the glare of their stars. But a method called gravitational lensing combined with good planning may allow us to observe distant moons in the future.


With gravitational lensing, a massive body in space can act as a really good lens for light that passes through its atmosphere from behind; that’s how this mysterious body was spotted in the first place. The larger body magnified light from a distant star, and in that light, the astronomers saw a smaller body. But the bigger body could’ve been either a planet, or a very dim star of its own, that’s actually farther away than they initially thought.


If only we knew its exact distance, we’d be able to tell for sure.


So like good scientists, the astronomers are gearing up to try it again.


Using two distant telescopes fixed on the same point and observing the same lensing effect, they plan to triangulate the distance to the body and figure out how big it is. It’s a simple solution called parallax that’s served us well for more than a century, and it just maybe the key to discovering exomoons with confidence in the future.


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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Hofmeister, Caitlin. "Asteroids, Exomoons, and a Crash on the Moon." SciShow Space, YouTube. 17 April 2014. Web video.

Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "Did We Find an Exomoon?" SkyFeed. 2 May 2018. Web article.

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