A very large telescope from the European Southern Observatory (ESO VLT) captured the world’s first image of the world’s first giant exoplanet orbiting a young Sun-like star 300 light-years from our own. Photography can provide important information about the formation of our own solar system.
The groundbreaking image, which is discussed in detail on the ESO website, is described as “a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage in its evolution.”;
As ESO explains, direct observations of exoplanets are extremely rare, but extremely important in finding planets like our own that could support life. The image of two exoplanets around one star is even more impressive, and the image of two planets orbiting the Sun like a star is a unique achievement – the first in the world.
Here is a wide-angle image of the corresponding solar system:
And here is the harvest:
Photography was made possible by the SPHERE instrument, a very large telescope that uses a coronagraph to block bright light emitted by a star, allowing astronomers to detect and observe much weaker planets around them.
The image shows a star very similar to our Sun, only much younger, in the upper left corner. Two exoplanets – gas giants, which are several times larger than Jupiter – are two bright spots in the middle and lower right of the image.
In particular, both planets are very far from their star: one rotates 160 times at the distance of the Earth-Sun, and the other about 320 times the distance of the Earth-Sun. But until this image shows a system similar to ours today, scientists hope that such images can shed some light on the early history of our solar system. For the rest of us, they are just incredible, or at least trying to understand.
To learn more, check out the video above, go to the ESO blog, or read the full research paper about this image in Letters to the astrophysical journal.
Graphic images: All photos ESO / Bohn et al.