Exoplanets Directly Observed For The First Time

Every day as I trawl through the science news I see something that makes me say, “Huh, cool.” But every now and then I see something that completely blows me away. The video below is one such item.

What we have here is direct imaging of exoplanets orbiting a distant star – that has never been done before! Holy wow!

The animation is comprised of seven still images taken with the Keck telescope array and then some fancy pants software filled in the gaps to give about three seconds of animation.

Now for some stat porn. Each of those 4 planets are all much bigger than our own Jupiter, indeed, if they had accumulated much more matter during their formation then they would have become brown dwarf stars in their own right. Also, they’re not orbiting nearly as fast as they appear; the inner star takes about 40 years to complete an orbit whilst the furthest one is about ten times that.

Another thing to note, look at the scale at the centre bottom. That line represents 20 astronomical units (an AU is the average distance between the earth and the sun) so even that closest planet is further away from its star than Saturn is from ours. This is a very large solar system. It’d have to be though as planets that large would very quickly collide if they weren’t a very long way from each other.

It can’t be known for sure until further observations have been made but it is hypothesised by Jason Wang, the University of California, Berkley, astronomy graduate who compiled the animation, that the planets are in resonance with each other; a one-two-four-eight resonance. This would help the system be more stable.

The star itself, HR8799, can be found in the pegasus constellation and is about 5 times brighter than our own sun.

So with the film explained, take a minute… hey, let’s go crazy, take two minutes to watch this video a couple of times and let it really sink in that we are now capable of directly observing other planets around other stars. Humans are pretty awesome when we put our minds to it.

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