Four Exoplanets Sighted, One Close Enough to Dream of "Sending Spacecraft There"

By Eliza Strickland | November 13, 2008 6:17 pm

exoplanet pictured 2In news that has thrown astronomers and space enthusiasts into a tizzy of excitement, two separate research teams announced today that they have taken the first pictures of exoplanets, planets orbiting stars beyond the edge of our solar system. It’s an achievement that has long been considered vital in the search for planets like our own [Physics World].

One team spotted a single planet circling a bright star only 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, while the other detected three giant planets orbiting a star 130 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation.

More than 300 so-called extrasolar planets have been found circling distant stars, making their discovery the hottest and fastest growing field in astronomy. But the observations have been made mostly indirectly, by dips in starlight as planets cross in front of their home star or by wobbles they induce going by it. Astronomers being astronomers, they want to actually see these worlds, but a few recent claims of direct observations have been clouded by debates about whether the bodies were really planets or failed stars [The New York Times]. But these newly discovered celestial objects are the right size for planets, and were observed moving around their parent stars.

Both discoveries were published in the online version of Science [subscription required], and both research teams had to overcome the difficulty of detecting the dim glow of the planets against the massive light of their stars. The team that glimpsed the solo planet around the star Fomalhaut (pictured) used a device on the Hubble Space Telescope known as a coronagraph, which blocks out the central star to make the planet’s glow more distinct. The planet, now known as Fomalhaut b, lies on the inner edge of a giant disk of debris, and orbits its star at a great distance, completing one revolution every 872 years. Lead researcher Paul Kalas noted that Fomalhaut was the closest exoplanet yet discovered, “close enough to contemplate sending spacecraft there” [The New York Times].

Meanwhile, researchers used telescopes in Hawaii to find the planetary trio around star HR 8799, and say that all three planets in the star system appear to be gas giants. If there are Earth-sized planets present, they are too small to see with current technology [Wired News]. The direct observation of exoplanets has been a cherished goal largely because that allows for spectroscopic observations, which could produce evidence for life-supporting atmospheres [Physics World].

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: HUGE EXOPLANET NEWS ITEMS: PICTURES!!!
80beats: Pictured: The First Known Planet Orbiting a Sun-Like Star?
DISCOVER: How Long Until We Find a Second Earth?

Image: NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • http://www.wtfis.com Comedy Blog

    I see what you did there.

  • http://www.ilike.com/artist/Cloan Adam Etheredge

    http://www.ilike.com/artist/Cloan/album/Fomalhaut+b

    http://www.ilike.com/artist/Cloan/album/Today+Mars%2C+Tomorrow+The+Stars

    Both of these rock’n'roll albums are hereby dedicated by their creator to the Kalas et al. team, and to Champions Of Science Phil Plait and Allyson Beatrice.
    Thank you ALL for your hard work and creativity.
    But most especially, for giving the rest of US a reason to go on.
    Please forward to relevant parties.
    Thank you.
    –Adam Etheredge (Cloan)

  • Matt

    Beautiful

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/11/13/four-exoplanets/ Jason Pacifico

    Jason E. Pacifico
    104 Graham Avenue
    Staten Island, NY 10314
    718-494-2482

    November 17, 2008

    Using Spectro-analysis of light reflecting (refracting) from a planet, from its sun,(with potential for life as Earth) can a photo-analysis of microscopic portions of the photons (perhaps also using photonic-electron microscope techniques)reveal (from light reflecting),from its atmosphere, land mass and oceans, whether there are satellites in its orbit, solar mirrors and cells refracting light form its surface (land mass), and submarines in it oceans (light refracting off its perhaps ceramic, plastic or metal surface?

    Can optic induced photons with neutrinos, tacheyons, quarks, leptons (sub-atomic particles) and muons shot form a particles accelerate onto, on top and along, the light or photons streaming from the Big Bang, for and to help its (the optical induced photons) speed, location and distance (search) to other solar systems and galaxies for a close look (pictures) using the photo induced optics.

    Jason Pacifico

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/11/13/four-exoplanets/ Jason Pacifico

    Using Spectro-analysis of light reflecting (refracting) from a planet, from its sun,(with potential for life as Earth) can a photo-analysis of microscopic portions of the photons (perhaps also using photonic-electron microscope techniques) reveal (from light reflecting), from its atmosphere, land mass and oceans, whether there are satellites in its orbit, solar mirrors and cells refracting light form its surface (land mass), and submarines in it oceans (light refracting off its perhaps ceramic, plastic or metal surface?

    Can optic induced photons with neutrinos, tacheyons, quarks, leptons (sub-atomic particles) and muons shot form a particles accelerate onto, on top and along, the light or photons streaming from the Big Bang, for and to help its (the optical induced photons) speed, location and distance (search) to other solar systems and galaxies for a close look (pictures) using the photo induced optics?

    Jason Pacifico

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/11/13/four-exoplanets/ Jason Pacifico

    In Search of Galaxies, a Chlorophyll Sun, and Quantum Affinity in the Big Bang Singularity

    The search for other galaxies and the exploration of different types of stars (suns) that are not hydrogen based (metaphysically primitive). One possibility (I believe) is a chlorophyll sun where fusion takes place without enormous heat reactions (furnaces) by a process of photo-synthesis into creating fusion, light and heat energy.

    In addition, the exploration of photons (light) from the Big Bang (singularity) should be directed back into its inceptions (origins) by following (along and onto) the reverse path of light (photons) with optical induced (shot from an accelerator in space) photon energy particles (with subatomic quarks, muons, tachyons, leptons, etc.) into its inception (singularity). On neutrinos and quantum theory, neutrinos may be the quantum equation for all the universe and the Big Bang (or Big Bounce) singularity, and our own subconscious mind (pineal gland), heart (fourth center) and soul.

    Jason Pacifico

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