This is quite remarkable. There’s actually been an image (see left) taken of a planet orbiting another star. There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets in orbit around other stars (see lots of earlier posts), and evidence for them has been indirect, since they are too tiny and too dim (having no light of their own) to image directly. You can learn of their existence by their effects on their parent star, and/or on the light it casts. (The image left is courtesy of the Gemini Observatory. The University of Toronto scientists used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and its adaptive optics technology to make the image.)
But this is different, and a bit of a milestone. These astronomers released an actual picture of an imaged planet orbiting a star that’s about 500 light years away from our sun. (Other non-orbiting masses have been imaged before, but this is different, in that it’s in orbit around a star.) It is about 8 times the size of Jupiter, orbiting a relatively young star. You can read more about it here. An extract:
Of all known extrasolar planets, this one is orbiting the furthest from its star. It is located roughly 11 times further from its star than Neptune — the outermost planet in our solar system — is located from the sun, the scientists said.
They said they are working to confirm that the planet is indeed orbiting this star as it appears, but it may take up to two years to get that data.
“The star is very typical. It’s like the sun, just younger. But the planet is quite unusual. It’s on the high end of the mass of the extrasolar planets found so far. And it’s also very far away from its star,” Jayawardhana added.
Before this, the only planets or similar objects that have been directly imaged outside of the solar system were either free-floating in space and not orbiting a star, or orbiting a brown dwarf, a failed star that did not reach the mass necessary to spark the nuclear fusion typical of a star.