First-ever direct image of two giant planets orbiting Sun-like star
Although astronomers have detected more than 4,000 planets outside our solar system, most of them appear as points of data or dips in light charts. Now, astronomers have captured a very rare sight, with an image of two exoplanets orbiting a star very much like our own.
The multi-planetary system orbits a star called TYC 8998-760-1, which is located about 300 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Musca, or The Fly. The two planets are gas giants that are much more massive than our local ones, with one measuring as much as 14 Jupiters and the other six.
They’re also much further from their star than any planet in our solar system. The closer one orbits at 160 Astronomical Units (AU), while the second is 320 AU away. For reference, Earth is 1 AU from the Sun, and Neptune is just 30 AU. Even Pluto is on average only 39 AU from the Sun.
And this remarkable system has now been directly captured by the Very Large Telescope (VLT). In the shot, the exoplanets are clearly visible as two dots of light set against the dark in the lower half of the frame. The glow of the star is seen at the top-left. The black circle that obscures part of it is a result of an instrument called a coronagraph, which blocks the starlight to help the telescope see the fainter planets.
The team says that this is the first time two exoplanets have been directly imaged orbiting a Sun-like star. But as similar as it is, this star is much younger than our own. At just 17 million years old, it’s a cosmic infant compared to the middle-aged Sun, which is about 4.6 billion years old. The planets are still very young too, and the heat from their recent formation is what makes them shine so bright.
This isn’t the only cosmic baby photo that the VLT has taken recently. Back in May the telescope imaged what looked like a planet in the process of being formed, in a thick cloud of dust and gas surrounding another young star.
A study describing the new image was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. More details can be seen in the video below.
Source: European Southern Observatory