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The tiny dot in this image may be the first look at exomoons in the making

New telescope images may provide the first view of moons forming outside the solar system.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile glimpsed a dusty disk of potentially moon-forming material around a baby exoplanet about 370 light-years from Earth. The Jupiter-like world is surrounded by enough material to make up to 2.5 Earth moons, researchers report online July 22 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Observations of this system could offer new insight into how planets and moons are born around young stars.

ALMA observed two planets, dubbed PDS 70b and 70c, circling the star PDS 70 in July 2019. Unlike most other known exoplanets, these two Jupiter-like worlds are still forming — gobbling up material from the disk of gas and dust swirling around their star (SN: 7/2/18). During this formation process, planets are expected to wrap themselves in their own debris disks, which control how planets pack on material and form moons.

Around PDS 70c, ALMA spotted a disk of dust about as wide as Earth’s orbit around the sun. With previously reported exomoon sightings still controversial, the new observations offer some of the best evidence yet that planets orbiting other stars have moons (SN: 4/30/19).

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