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Researchers think they've discovered first exomoon

Researchers have published a paper that claims the first possible discovery of a moon outside of our solar system.

This graphic shows the makeup of cometary dust on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which will be visited by the Rosetta spacecraft this year
Courtesy University of Michigan/graphic by Valeriy Tenishev

The study, which was published online on Dec. 13, depends on a methodology called microlensing, in which scientists measure the degree to which starlight is refracted by the presence of a gravity-producing object.

Astronomers observed, using several telescopes all over the world, the magnification of light from a distant star to 70 times its ordinary brightness. They they observed a second brightening of the light, but to a lesser extent, which may indicate that the first object that bent the light - possibly an exoplanet - was followed into the path of the starlight by an exomoon.

The results of the research team's observations do not assure that this scenario is a certainty.

"The data are well fit by this exomoon model, but an alternate star+planet model fits the data almost as well," the researchers concluded.

The exomoon is hypothesized to exist in a system with an exoplanet that does not orbit a star.

The paper is published at Arxiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

NOTE: This story also appears at SciencefortheFuture.com.