PASADENA, Calif. (CBS Tampa) – For the first time ever, astronomers have spotted what they think is a moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system, reports Live Science.
A team of scientists detected a pair of objects in deep, deep space that could be a giant Jupiter-like planet and a rocky moon.
But they could also be a small star with a rocky planet about 18 times the mass of the Earth.
The astronomers used a process called gravitational microlensing. They wait for a massive object to move between our line of sight and a distant star. Light from the star is actually bent by the gravity of the massive object.
Using telescopes in New Zealand and Tasmania, astronomers determined that this object had an orbiting companion with a mass merely 0.05 percent of the larger body.
“One possibility is for the lensing system to be a planet and its moon, which if true, would be a spectacular discovery of a totally new type of system,” said Wes Traub, chief scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
“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,” added Traub, who was not involved in the study.
Unfortunately, because a microlensing event is random, the astronomers will probably not get a change to examine this same object again.
Astronomers have detected some 17,000 planets outside the solar system, but they have yet to confirm a sighting of an exomoon.
The study appears in the Astrophysical Journal.
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