Feeds

Astronomers spot hint of first EXOMOON, possibly

Passing planetary body provides fleeting glimpse of something special

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Thanks to the work of the Kepler space telescope and Earth-bound observations, we have now caught sight of nearly 2,000 exoplanets: planetary bodies orbiting distant stars. But now astronomers think they've caught the first sighting of an exomoon orbiting one of these distant planets.

Planetary moons are relatively common in our Solar System; Earth has one, Mars has two, and Jupiter has 67 of the things that we know about so far. But while the existence of a moon outside our Solar System is thought highly likely, it has always been a matter of conjecture rather than hard science.

The suspected exomoon sighting comes from telescopes in Australasia run by the Japan-New Zealand-American Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) partnership and the Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork (PLANET) programs, and the finding was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

"We present the first microlensing candidate for a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system, MOA-2011-BLG-262, with a primary lens mass of 4 Jupiter masses hosting a sub-Earth mass moon," the paper reads.

"The data are well fit by this exomoon model, but an alternate star + planet model fits the data almost as well. Nevertheless, these results indicate the potential of microlensing to detect exomoons, albeit ones that are different from the giant planet moons in our solar system."

The team used a technique known as gravitational lensing to make its discovery, whereby a large body passes in front of a target star and its gravitational force bends and focuses the received light, giving much greater detail of both the observational target and the middleman providing the lensing.

Based on the readings the team has received, the middleman object has a tiny orbiting body, one-2,000th of its mass. This could either be a distant, slow-moving small star circled by a planet about 18 times as big as Earth, or a fast-moving planet relatively closer to Earth that's three or four times larger than Jupiter, with a moon significantly smaller than our planet.

"The researchers' models point to the moon solution, but if you simply look at what scenario is more likely in nature, the star solution wins," said Wes Traub, the chief scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The problem is that the chance for further checking is now gone. The two objects have passed each other and vanished – insofar as we can view them from Earth's vantage point – but the team hopes that with more number-crunching and sky time the confirmation of exomoons will come. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS
Clippy: It looks your hands are shaking, are you sure you want to commit this code?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.