Seeing is Believing?

hubble telescope extra solar planet picture

Well, this is a significant bit of news! Look at this:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star.

Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter’s mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis (the Southern Fish).

Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by NASA’s Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS).

In 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible-light image of a large dust belt surrounding Fomalhaut. It clearly showed that this structure is in fact a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across with a sharp inner edge.

This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto. […]

[…] Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring’s inner edge. The results are being reported in the November 14 issue of Science magazine. […]

This is quite exciting, I think. You can get more from the press release and the full story from the links here. (By the way, you can get more on the Kuiper Belt at an earlier post, by the way.)

keck telescope planetary system[Update: But there’s more! As pointed out to me in the comments by Neil, the ground-based Keck observatory has released images of another planetary system that are also very striking – perhaps more. Link here. Be sure to have a look at the movie they made showing the results of a technique for removing the direct light of the parent star to reveal the planets. (Thanks Neil!)]

-cvj

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