Beyond Our Solar System

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    Introduction

    The Latest: Astronomers have uncovered evidence of what may the first discovery of a moon orbiting a planet beyond our solar system.

    Illustration of moon orbit planet around distant star.
    Artist's concept of an exomoon. Credit: NASA/ESA/L. Hustak

    NASA's Hubble and Kepler spacecraft found evidence of the exomoon—what scientists call a moon beyond our solar system—orbiting a gas giant planet in a star system in the Cygnus constellation, about 8,000 light years from Earth.

    Exomoons are too small imaged directly. Their presence is inferred when they pass in front of a star, momentarily dimming its light. Such an event is called a transit, and has been used to detect many of the exoplanets cataloged to date. Exomoons are harder to detect than exoplanets because they are smaller than their companion planet and their transit signal is weaker.

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    Ten Things to Know

    Ten Things to Know - Beyond Our Solar System

    1

    Big Growth

    Edwin Hubble’s (pictured) study of the stars revealed our galaxy—once thought to be the entire universe—is actually one of billions in an expanding universe.

    2

    Small Matter

    Ninety-five percent of the Universe is dark energy and dark matter. The rest—everything on Earth, all the planets and stars and everything else—makes up the remaining five percent.

    3

    A Lot of Nothing

    Our Universe is mostly empty space. Galaxies and clusters of galaxies that make up the visible universe are concentrated in a complex scaffold that surrounds enormous empty spaces.

    Edwin Hubble

    4

    Cosmic Neighborhood

    The Milky Way galaxy is in the Local Group, a neighborhood of about 30 galaxies. Our nearest major neighboring galaxy is called Andromeda.

    5

    Extrasolar Planets

    There are thousands of planets around other stars in our galaxy and very likely around other stars in other galaxies within the Universe.

    6

    Common Spiral

    Two-thirds of the galaxies are spiral-shaped like our  Milky Way galaxy. The remaining third have elliptical (oval-like) shapes, and a few have unusual shapes like toothpicks or rings.

    7

    Many Galaxies

    Hubble Space Telescope observations (pictured) of a tiny patch of space (a fraction of the diameter of the Moon) revealed more than 5,500 galaxies.

    8

    Is Anybody Out There?

    Scientists are searching for other planetary systems could have the potential for life. So far, Earth is still the only planet known to harbor life.

    9

    No Escape

    A black hole is a great amount of matter packed into a very small area, which results in a gravitational field so strong that nothing—not even light—can escape.

    10

    Billions and Billions

    There may be a hundred billion galaxies in the Universe. A galaxy is full of stars: Our sun is just one of at least a hundred billion stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.

    Hubble Goes to the eXtreme to Assemble Farthest-Ever View of the Universe

    Pop Culture

    Pop Culture

    Star Trek
    "Star Trek" inspired many scientists and engineers. Credit: CBS/Paramount.

    The mysteries of our Universe have long captivated science fiction authors and countless, memorable books at films—many of which inspired the real life scientists and engineering currently exploring the universe.

    Many scientists cite Star Trek, first aired on television in 1966 and reinvented numerous times on both small and big screen in the decades since, as an inspiration. The show followed the imagined crew of a spaceship exploring our galaxy.

    Another inspiration: Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which a fictional astronaut is transported across the cosmos through a mysterious portal. This tale is both a memorable movie and novel. For the next generation, who knows who will be inspired by the the 2014 movie Interstellar, a fictional team of astronauts search for a habitable planet around a black hole in a distant galaxy.

    The 1980 television series Cosmos, featuring Voyager mission scientist Carl Sagan, took viewers on a factual tour of the known Universe and sparked the imaginations of many present day scientists and engineers. The series was reimagined in 2014 with astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson as the host.

    Resources

    Resources

    NASA Topics: Solar System and Beyond

    NASA’s Exoplanet Portal

    NASA Astrophysics

    Beyond Our Solar System News