Now that astronomers routinely find far-flung planets orbiting other stars, a fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is pushing into a new frontier in detecting bodies outside our solar system: distant moons.
“It’s the next big thing in the field. We’ve found rocky planets as small as Mars. The big challenge now is trying to find a moon,” said David Kipping, the Carl Sagan Fellow at the CfA and Harvard College Observatory.
Kipping heads the Hunt for Exomoons with Kepler (HEK) project, a year-old effort that joins six astronomers from several institutions in the search for moons outside our solar system. Despite the project’s tender age, it already has had some success, with team members publishing two academic papers, including the first detection of an unseen planet based on its effects on a second planet crossing the face of its star. The first detection of a moon outside our solar system — a significant astronomical milestone — remains ahead.