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Are there no moons around alien planets?

Are there no moons around alien planets?

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Using a computer algorithm, researchers at the Max Planck Institute searched two planets for exomoons — with unexpected results.

Göttingen – Until recently, it was assumed that the planets Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b have exomoons. Just as the Earth orbits its moon, exomoons refer to celestial bodies orbiting planets outside our solar system. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen and the Sonnenberg Observatory worked together to search for exomoons. Now share yours results.

Searching for exomoons around the planets Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b

In the solar system, many planets have moons. With the exception of Mercury and Venus, all planets have moons orbiting them. Saturn in particular is the leader in the number of its moons. So it would be logical to assume that this also applies to other planetary systems. So far, concrete evidence of extrasolar moons has only been found on the exoplanets Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b. A team there has now investigated in more detail.

In contrast to the exoplanets that have been studied, Jupiter has several moons. © UPI Photo/Imago

The Pandora computer algorithm aims to make research easier for researchers. The algorithm was applied to measurement data from exoplanets and produced fairly realistic results. “We wanted to confirm the discovery of exomoons around Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b,” says the doctor. “Unfortunately, our evaluations show something different,” said Rene Heller, the study’s lead author.

The computer algorithm Pandora calculates the possible light curves of the moons

Because the outer moons are so far away, they cannot be observed directly with telescopes. Instead, fluctuations in the brightness of distant stars are measured. This is called the light curve. When exoplanets pass by a star, they obscure it for a short period when viewed from Earth. The same thing may also happen to a lesser extent when exomoons pass by their planets. However, this can only be proven for large moons that orbit their planet at a great distance.

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In the search for potential moons, artificial light curves were calculated. The algorithm then compared the simulated light curves with the actual light curves to check if they were correct. The results of the study do not indicate the presence of moons around the exoplanets examined. Instead, they show that search algorithms often produce false positives.

This time, researchers were unable to discover any exomoons. However, they are optimistic. The PLATO mission, a project to explore exoplanets, is expected to encounter the first exomoons.