J1407b’s ring system was the first of its kind to be discovered outside of the solar system in 2012, but in new research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, the awesome scale of the rings has been realized. Over 30 individual rings have been observed, each one tens of millions of miles in diameter, and between each concentric ring are gaps that indicate the presence of exomoons — not too dissimilar to Saturn’s ‘shepherd moons’ that continue to shape Saturn’s rings today.
“The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system. If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.”
Although it has been long theorized that moons can form from the debris surrounding planets, until 2012, astronomers hadn’t found any example of a ringed gas giant beyond our solar system. But now they have a super-sized ring system surrounding a world orbiting another star that provides evidence for a system of exomoons embedded inside a vast ring system.