Rings and Moons on the other side of the Galaxy

Scientists suspect there might be exoplanets with rings and moons like those in our Solar System

Just 30 years ago we did not event know if exoplanets actually existed, planets outside our Solar System. Now that over 3,000 have been discovered, scientists wonder if these planets have moons and rings, just like Saturn or the Earth.

Spotting exomooons and exostarts (moons and rings of exoplanets) is extremely difficult. However, improvements made in tools and observation techniques are starting to shed some light.

NASA’s Kepler telescope examines more than 145,000 stars looking for any sign of exoplanet (NASA)

Rings beyond Saturn

The planetary rings are rings formed by small rocks and particles that orbit around a planet. These type of rings are common in the Solar System: the most known ones are those of Saturn, although Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune also have.

Saturn and its ring system photographed by Cassini. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Thus, it is logical to actually think that some of the more than 3,000 exoplanets discovered are also likely to have rings.

Matthew Kenworthy’s team at the University of Leiden (The Netherlands) seems to have observed the first planet with rings outside our Solar System.

Researchers used the concealment technique to capture changes in the light coming from the star J1407, at 420 light-years. Results show that a large object did in fact pass by the star.

After discarding many hypotheses, scientists have concluded that the strange behavior of J1407 is due to the presence of a huge ring system, 200 times larger than that of Saturn.

Chasing after Exomoons

Besides rings, many of the planets in our Solar System have moons. Experts in astrobiology believe that some of these satellites could harbor life.

Therefore, more and more scientists are focused on finding moons in other planetary systems. David Kipping’s team, at the Cool Worlds Lab in University of Columbia (United States) has been after the first exomoon for years.

Kipping and his team have studied over 300 planetary systems to find exoplanets and it seems that they have succeeded: the planet Kepler-1625b, the size of Jupiter, could have a moon as large as Neptune.

The team has been able to observe this planet more closely thanks to the Hubble telescope and in the next months it will analyze the collected data to confirm if Kepler-1625b really has a moon.

The next greatest discovery in astronomy could be so close. Maybe Endor, the forest moon home of Star Wars’ Ewoks, is closer than we think.

Translated by Chaplin’s Languages | Find out more in Junior Report




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