NASA Researchers May Have Found Possible Exomoon

Posted on April 11, 2014

Exomoon candidate


NASA researchers may have found a possible exomoon. NASA says in a release it could also be a small, faint star. If it is a moon it would be the first exomoon discovered. NASA says the discovery was made by watching a chance encounter of objects in our galaxy, which can be witnessed only once. An artist's concept of the possible exomoon is pictured.

David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, Ind., lead author of the research paper in the Astrophysical Journal, says in a statement, "We won't have a chance to observe the exomoon candidate again. But we can expect more unexpected finds like this."

In the new study, is is unclear what the foreground, lensing object is. The ratio of the larger body to its smaller companion is 2,000 to 1. NASA says this means the pair could "be either a small, faint star circled by a planet about 18 times the mass of Earth -- or a planet more massive than Jupiter coupled with a moon weighing less than Earth."

Wes Traub, the chief scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who was not involved in the study, says in a statement, "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. 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."

JPL astronomers say that in the future, it may be possible to enlist the help of multiple telescopes to watch a lensing event as it occurs, and confirm the presence of exomoons.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech