FIRST EXOPLANET IMAGE CONFIRMED!

By Phil Plait | April 29, 2005 9:58 pm

The very first image of a planet orbiting a star other than the Sun has been confirmed. They really did it; they bagged a planet!

I won’t keep you in suspense: here is the picture:

exoplanet_2m1207b

The planet is the red fuzzy blob to the lower left of the blue fuzzy blob. The blue blob is the parent star, and is a brown dwarf, a very low-mass star (it looks blue because this is a false-color image). The planet has about 5 times Jupiter’s mass, well within the range of being a planet and way too low to be even a brown dwarf, let alone a star. It orbits the star at about 1.5 times the distance Pluto orbits from the Sun. The two are close by as these things go: just 70 parsecs (230 light years) from here.

So how do we know that’s a planet? Ah, it’s a fine story to tell. Have a seat and get comfy; this’ll take a while.

We’ve known about other planets for some time now. The first were discovered in 1990, orbiting, of all things, a pulsar, a dead star. These are pretty interesting planets, given their circumstances, but they are not orbiting a sunlike star (though I highly recommend reading the story behind the discovery, it’s a grand tale, full of real science and real scientists).

The first planets orbiting stars like the Sun were found in 1995. They were not seen directly, but only through their influence on their parent star. A star, of course, has lots of gravity, so the planet orbits the star in a big circle (or ellipse). But the planet has gravity too, which tugs on the star. It’s like two people, one big and one small, locking hands and swinging around each other. The little one makes a big circle, and the big one makes a little circle.

As the star moves, this motion is betrayed through the Doppler shift, the same effect that makes a race car go “EEEEEEEEooooooowwwwwwwrrrrrrrrrrr” as it zips past you. When the star moves toward us in its tiny orbit around the planet (if you want to think of it that way), the Doppler shift means its light gets a wee bit bluer. When it moves away from us, the light gets a bit redder. This shift is incredibly small, and takes fantastically sensitive instruments to detect it. That technology only became available 10 years ago, and we’ve come pretty far: over 150 planets have been found this way.

While this is fantastic, it still leaves us semi-evolved apes dissatisfied: we want to see something! Those detections come about as plots of sine waves and wiggly lines.

I wanna see a planet!

Heehee. Now I can. This is so cool!

OK, I got distracted there. Back to the story.

There has been something of a race to get the first image of a planet around another star. I played a minor role in this race. When I worked on a camera onboard Hubble, we wondered if we could image a planet orbiting the nearest sunlike star, Alpha Centauri. I wrote some programs to simulate how the camera worked, and I determined that we might, might, just barely, detect one if the conditions were just so. But it would have been an extremely difficult observation, and we couldn’t convince the folks who controlled Hubble to do the observation– I really don’t blame them, given how monumentally hard this observation would have been , for so low a chance of success. We did search other, nearby stars, and never found one (duh, or else I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry now; I’d have written it years ago!).

Well, then came images from an infrared camera on Hubble. Looking for planets in the IR is good. Stars are bright, so bright that they totally drown out the feeble light from a planet. In visible light, that is. In the infrared, planets are much brighter, and stars dimmer. Instead of being a billion times brighter (as Alpha Cen was over any hypothetical planet I tried to simulate), in the IR stars might only be thousands of times brighter. That’s still a lot, but easier to deal with.

My friend Glenn Schneider had some intriguing data from the IR camera, showing a dim star (for the record, it was called TWA 6, because it’s part of a loose group of young stars called the TW Hydrae Association), with another, dimmer star next to it. The colors of the object were consistent with it being a planet. Had he found a planet orbiting another star? He couldn’t be sure, because it might be a background star masquerading as a planet. He needed proof.

The only way to know was to either wait a year to see if the two objects moved across the sky together (more on that in a moment, because it’s crucial to our tale), or to take a spectrum, break the light up into its colors like a rainbow. By doing that, you can tell the difference between a planet and a star.

So Glenn used the camera I worked on to take spectra, and asked me to help analyze the data. I spent months slaving over that data. Months! But the goal was sweet: to have proof of the first image of an alien world orbiting a far off star…

Other people (like my friend Eliot Malumuth) worked hard on the data too, but in the end we just couldn’t do it. The star’s light was swamping the fainter light from the other object. Dejected, we gave up. Turns out, later, follow-up observations showed it was a background star. Oh well.

How did we know it wasn’t a planet? Let’s back up a sec. The Milky Way Galaxy is a collection of hundreds of billions of stars (and clouds of dust and gas and other junk) in the shape of a flattened disk. The stars orbit the center, and that includes the Sun. Even at 200 km/sec, it takes about 240 million years to circle the Galaxy once. Yikes.

But other stars orbit at different speeds. So over years, we see the stars in the sky move with respect to each other. We call this their “proper motion” (I wrote a web page about this, with a Hubble picture showing this motion for a nearby star). So if you take an image of a star, wait some time, and take another one, you can detect this motion. See where this is going (har har)?

If we see a blip of light near a star, it might be a background star. So we wait a while, and then take another picture. If the nearby star moves a lot with respect to the other blip of light, chances are that blip is a star much farther away. If it were planet, it would share its stars motion across the sky.

With Glenn’s star, it turned out that the later observations showed the two objects not to be moving together. They were unassociated, and we didn’t have a planet.

Fast forward five years or so, to 2004…

Last year, a team led by astronomer Gael Chauvin used the prosaically-named Very Large Telescope in Chile, and they spotted something interesting. Near a faint red star called 2M1207 (ironically, in the TW Hydrae association!) was a fainter, even redder blip of light. Hmmm…they got a spectrum, and it sure looked like a young planet, still hot from its formation, but they couldn’t be positively, absolutely sure. The only way to confirm whether it was a planet or not was to wait, and get more images later. Then they could see if the two blips moved together.

Fast forward again, to April 2005…

Hey, that’s now!

Success!

The image above (clicking it takes you to a 220kb higher-res image) shows the proof. The blue line is the motion of the planet relative to the star if it’s not a planet, and the flat red line is if it really is a planet, moving with the star. Note the points on the plot– they are smack dab on the red line.

The two blips moved together. That means the last bit of doubt is gone. They did it! I now pronounce you star and planet. In fact, the star needs a name change: it’s now called 2M1207A. The planet is 2M1207b (stars are upper case, planets are lower case, so that’s not a typo).

My sincere and very exuberant congratulations to Gael Chauvin and his team who made this incredible image. Look at it! Sure, it’s young, only about 8 million years old (compared to 4.5 billion for the Earth), and it’s still so hot that water in its atmosphere is still steam. And sure, it’ll take a few million years to cool off, and even then it’ll be a gas giant probably much like Jupiter.

But it’s a planet. And you can see it.

As our technology gets better, we’ll find lower and lower mass planets. Then there may well be a quantum leap: NASA plans on building space telescopes which can image planets the size of Earth, normal, mature planets, just like Earth, if they’re out there.

I think they are, and I think we’ll see them. I wonder. My daughter is nine years old. By the time she’s in college, taking an astronomy class — will her professor show her an image of a world with blue oceans, green and brown continents, white clouds… orbiting Alpha Centauri?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff

Comments (73)

  1. I wonder how long it will take for the woo-woo crowd to take this as a “vindication” of the truth of UFOs. I’ll keep watch on the fringe.

  2. Andromeda321

    Wow BA, that was very nicely written! Thanks for explaining it so well. :-)

  3. jt-3d

    Oh nice. I was wondering when they’d get one on film. Now that we have one, I suppose there will be a flood, like after they first detected a planet around another star. Good times.

  4. Berkeley

    A few hundred years ago, people just assumed there might be planets out there, and even life on them (it was even mentioned in theology). Then for some years now, people have been thinking: We have no proof of other planets and other life forms, so it can’t exist. Now we have seen a planet. Fantastic!

    Regarding UFOs, I still listen to Enrico Fermi (“But where are they?”).

  5. Gazmat

    The last couple of years have rekindled my love of space exploration. So many amazing images from and revelations about mars, the Titan lander and now this: we’ve seen a world outside the solar sytem. Amazing news. Thanks for the very well written piece that communicated the science and the sense of wonder.

  6. Michelle Rochon

    A great discovery. I’m actually real happy! Me too, I wasn’t satisfied with just the “we detect them thanks to the movement of the star…”, I wanted to SEE the thing!

    We’re a very visual species, most likely. :P

  7. Thanks. Important news. I heard your announcement on George Noory’s show last night. Of course, then Richard C. Hoaxland had to call in and try to downplay the importance. Coast to Coast needs some flake removers.

  8. If its anything like the Sid Meyer’s game, it’ll be green oceans…

  9. Brock

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the article itself, just the bit about a planet in Alpha Centauri.
    Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that it was physically impossible for a binary system to have a planet in a stable orbit. And Alpha Centauri is a binary (well, technically a trinary, but the third star is so small and far away from the other two it doesn’t really matter) system.

  10. Wow that is one big article! Awesome though!

    So cool 8)

  11. Wow, that’s incredible news. Really interesting. ^_^

    I wonder what the astrologers will (have to) make of a confirmed new planet? =P

  12. Wiz

    Stars are bright, so bright that they totally drown out the feeble light from a planet. In visible light, that is. In the infrared, planets are much brighter, and stars dimmer. Instead of being a billion times brighter, [...] in the IR stars might only be thousands of times brighter.

    Why is that? I thought warmer objects radiated more in infrared, and stars are clearly warmer than planets…. Just curious.

  13. Irishman

    Wiz, SWAG, heat emitted in infrared is just heat being dissipated as EM in one wavelength band. The hotter the object doing the emitting, the higher the band (i.e. longer the wavelength). So when objects get hot enough, they emit more energy in higher bands, giving off light, and so less in lower wavelengths, IR.

    “Coast to Coast needs some flake removers.” Starting from the top – Art Bell, George Noory, et al.

  14. Wiz, Irishman was close, but a tad confused. :-) Any object gives off light. The kind of light depends on its temperature. A warm object (like an oven, a planet, a human) gives off light mostly in the infrared (though also at lower energy = longer wavelength = lower frequency). As an object gets hotter, the predominant light it gives off gets higher energy. So a star gives off most of its light in the visible, and less in infrared. A planet gives off no visible light (they’re bright because they *reflect* light)., but lots of infrared. The star still gives off more, but the ratio of star to planet is usually much lower in infrared than in visible.

    These might help: http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/starcolors.html and http://www.badastronomy.com/mad/1996/wien.html

  15. The Black Cat

    Wow, this is great news! I wasn’t expecting this so soon. I read that between the original announcement and this confirmation there have been a couple of other possible planet sightings, so it looks like jt-3d may very well be right. Especially considering we have a better idea what to look for now.

    As for planets around binary stars, take a look at this site:
    http://burtleburtle.net/bob/physics/binary.html
    It has some great java orbit simulations. That particular link shows a number of stable orbits around binary stars, but the page has a bunch of other interesting orbits as well.

  16. Maurizio

    > It seems to be possible…

    everytime somebody tells you that something is “impossible” just show them a picture of Saturn’s rings

  17. Brad in Michigan

    Great news Philip. I can’t wait to share it with my students in Science. This question of “Do we have a picture of another planet?” comes up every year and now I can show them one.

    This is so cool. I tell my own children the things they will see in their lifetimes will be amazing. Great article and well explained, thanks!

    Brad

  18. S

    “Quantum leap”? So that means it is a really small discovery? ;)

  19. wrestilingchadd

    I think is awsom that we knoow for sure that we can actualy see another salestial body orbeting a stare instead of a strange nios from a radio teliscope

  20. hazzard

    I just love this :-)

    Makes me whant to be re-borned in about 2105…and se were this is realy going.

  21. Mick

    Interesting as this may be. (And indeed, it IS very interesting!)

    I really don’t know if many Earthlike planets can be found, no matter what technology one uses. Because I don’t think there will be all that many.

    I don’t doubt that terrestrial worlds will be found. They may even be quite common. But looking at the exoplanets so far discovered, it seems that the norm so far is systems with ‘heavy jupiters’ in eccentric orbits normally associated with comets, rogue asteroids and Pluto.

    And though I certainly won’t rule out the possibility of promising worlds, I personally think most rocky worlds will probably just follow the same rule and be in weird orbits, that aren’t particularly friendly to life as we know it.

    And then there is also the fact that many of these promising worlds may be moons of Jupiter-weight, or heavier gas-giants. (If these are in a promising orbit to begin with.) And would these be detectable at all?

    I think Astronomy is hugely fascinating, and I’ve used a telescope myself to look at the Moon, Jupiter etc. But when it comes to finding life, the theme has always been consistent disappointment in the end. (Just think of all the attempts to find life in the solar system. Venus… Mars… etc. And personally, the most scientists seem to dare to hope for on Europa seems to be microbes. (And I’d have to see it first.) And even if there where microbes, this might be interesting to folks like me, but the public will probably find it less then riveting. (Do they know for example about the unusual microbes in say… lake Vostok, Antarctica? Have they even HEARD about lake Vostok?)

    In addition, even if we do find earthlike worlds, we can’t quite do anything with them. Whilst the public will find that interesting, obviously. I doubt it will result in much. Freezing people doesn’t seem to be possible. And I think a generationship is a horrible idea. People being born and dying in an artificial area, with their only purpose being to bring forth next generations till a few people can finally reach a system? No… Bad idea… And we couldn’t communicate with these colonist anyways if we could get them there. (To Alpha Centauri alone it would take four years just for a radiomessage to arrive.)

    I’m not saying the money shouldn’t be spent. If there is a shortage, the US could shave money of its preposterously huge military budget. (400 Billion and upped to 420 Billion under Bush per year, as opposed to say… 70 Billion for Russia, 50 Billion for China and less then a full Billion for these so called ‘Axis of Evil’ folks even a their peak.) There are more practical causes perhaps, but its still a good cause.

    But I personally wouldn’t expect to much to rejoice about.

    I don’t want to be like the types in the past who used to say that things like electricity or personal computers where impossible or unfeasable. But far as practical uses go, I’d be (pleasantly) surprised if they built some viable manned operation on even the moon, by the time I’m old. (And I’m in my mid-twenties.)

    So all in all… photo’s of Earthlike worlds.. If you actually manage to get some, bring them on. But I don’t expect them. And if they are made, the photo will probably be all we’ll get within our lifespan. (Barring any breakthroughs to drastically enhance said lifespan.)

  22. I just wanted to say a huge thank you for this blog. I’ve been lurking since you announced it in your BA newsletter, and I love dropping by to see what’s new. I wouldn’t even consider myself an amateur astronomer – hard to do practical astronomy when you’re occassionally agoraphobic and mildly afraid of the dark. I love the theoretical side of things, though, and you have a wonderful way of explaining them.

    Bravo!

  23. Andrea

    So, if I’m understanding this right, we are pretty much looking at the planet as it appears today, give or take. It’s not “looking into the past” as Hubble like to do. We are looking 230 years into the past, right?

    Great explanation. Good for a lay(wo)man!

  24. HvP

    Mick,

    Your viewpoint seems just a little shortsighted to me. The reason that only massive super-Jupiter-like planets have been found so far is because those are exactly the type of planets that current technology would be expected to pick up first. Extremely massive worlds produce the biggest effect on their parent stars (large planets are easier to find, small planets are hard to find). Plus those planets with larger surface area also reflect back more radiation (that’s why Jupiter is so much brighter than Mars even though it’s farther away) and thus you would expect that a very large world would have been the first to be imaged. No one expects you to find Pluto with your telescope before you find Saturn.

    There is no reason to assume that super-massive planets make up a majority of planets in the galaxy because for right now all of our intruments are biased towards detecting the large stuff and miss most of the smaller stuff. Currently NASA does have on the books a more highly resolved planet-finder telescope which should have the capability to detect smaller rocky worlds. So in the spirit of skeptisicm I’d hope that you reserve drawing absolute conclusions until the range of observations have been tested in order to confirm or deny your opinion.

    I’m sorry that technology hasn’t met your wish for instant gratification in this field. The universe never gives up its secrets without a good fight and we’re doing the best we can. There are certain absolute limits on our abilities as mortals in this universe and if we can’t retrieve information from other worlds faster than the speed of light or within the scope of a human lifespan then other ways have to be found. If a candidate for possible alien life on another world were possible what practical time-limit would you advise is impractical for sending a probe? A 20 year round trip? 50, 150, 300, 1,000 years? Can you imagine the impact such a discovery would make to the society of the future if they could thank us for sending out a probe now which could bring them proof of alien life in their time?

    And let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The possibility of finding Earth-like worlds is but one small part in an ongoing goal to understand the dynamics of solar-system formation on a larger scale. And that is another piece of the puzzle to understanding how exactly we got here in the first place to even ask the questions.

  25. Bob Trenkamp

    wrt “Regarding UFOs, I still listen to Enrico Fermi (â€?But where are they?â€?).”

    Aren’t there some folks that you really go out of your way to avoid? …even though you haven’t met them personally yet? …and really don’t want to?

    Maybe they’ve seen enough from afar….

  26. This made today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day

    http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap050510.html

  27. Gavin

    Fantastic article, thanks! Exciting times.

  28. Taiko

    hmmm… Maybe I was expecting too much but I didn’t find that very impressive… but at least the technology used to find planets proved itself useful. I’ll wait until they find a earth like planet to celebrate.

  29. douglas clark

    Philip,

    This is great news. It should, hopefully,give a fillip to funding prospects for the Terrestrial Planet Finder project, and maybe with the new guy in charge at NASA it could also be progressed a little quicker. Great exposition by the way.

    douglas

  30. Chris

    Phil, this was nice, thanks for posting it.

    Danny, however, said “I wonder how long it will take for the woo-woo crowd to take this as a “vindicationâ€? of the truth of UFOs. I’ll keep watch on the fringe.”

    Don’t bother. Plenty of us “flakes” who’ve seen them for real, and I don’t mean weather balloons or jupiter or airplanes, are several steps ahead of you on some of the really interesting science, and pseudoskeptics like you will someday get the chance to dine on your words. You’d find it useful to set personal insecurities and jabs aside, as they get in the way of real science, which is about truth, not dogma. Remember once the earth was flat.

  31. Are they going to make a quantum leap in telescope technology or a meteoric rise in imaging quality?
    Kidding. I love this site and this is incredibly good news.
    Kudos to all those who worked their collective butts off to do this.

  32. The planet was seen last year only but it took so much time to confirm it now !

  33. hippypaul

    The first post I have read here. Subject was very well explained and thread was interesting. I too wish that we could have all the information right now. However, that’s not the way it works – you have to work for everything. Nevertheless, I still want the flying car that Popular Science promised me when I was a kid (grin).

  34. Bob Allee

    As we used to say on the farm, you splained that well. You must be a goog splainer.

    bob

  35. Oh, I’ve splained a goog once or twice in my life.

  36. MrSpook

    Fascinating . . . and many congratulations to all of you for the success you have achieved. I admire your hard work and dedication to such an extremely difficult task. Be sure to get back to me when you guys get a clear enough shot to count the number of breasts the female inhabiants are sporting out there. (I’m tryin’ to win a bet.)

  37. caledon

    Got to this site by accident……..excellent explanations….won’t be able to stay away now

  38. its wonder to say the humans have a image of a planet revolving around the another planet

  39. Jami

    Cool! You do a really great job of explaining this otherwise confuzzling astronomy stuff. I’m not really well versed in astronomy, but I wish that high school (I’m in tenth grade!!) had astronomy classes. :-( Oh well. Thanks for making this wonderful site!

  40. Sriram

    Gr8 explanation…as always…thx

  41. I just wanted to say a huge thank you for this blog. I’ve been lurking since you announced it in your BA newsletter, and I love dropping by to see what’s new. I wouldn’t even consider myself an amateur astronomer – hard to do practical astronomy when you’re occassionally agoraphobic and mildly afraid of the dark. I love the theoretical side of things, though, and you have a wonderful way of explaining them.

    Bravo!

  42. I just wanted to say a big, big thank you. I’ve been looking around since you announced it in your BA newsletter. I wouldn’t even consider myself an amateur astronomer – hard to do practical astronomy when you’re occassionally agoraphobic and mildly afraid of the dark. I love the theoretical side of things, though, and you have a wonderful way of explaining them.

    Bravo!

  43. I just wanted to say a big, big thank you. I’ve been looking around since you announced it in your BA newsletter.

    Thanks!!

  44. alec

    looks like two brown dwarfs

  45. Very interesting piece — I thought exoplanets had only been detected, not actually observed. So, when I saw the photo and read the explanation, I was fascinated.

    At first I thought you were going to say the photo was an error (since the site is called “Bad Astronomy”) but was pleased to see that it is authentic. I guess some “good astronomy” is included with the bad here!

    Thanks,
    Jim

  46. Bill Wesley

    Imagin this. a thin mylar parachut in space 100 miles or so across parked in some planets shade. A source of projected light of a single wave lenght is projected into the concave side of the “parachute” to fill it out with light pressure. Carbon fiberes tether ithe mylar to the projectore like the strings of a parachhute to the rider. The projected light “image” may be ajusted to shape the parachute into a parroabla. Now we can study alien insects on Alpha Centari and we are only blind to the projectores light frequency. this could ocellate and then we’re blind to nothing. Why not?????????????????????????????

  47. the olathe site school distret are so goos cuz u can see a whole bunch of different thing tht some sites can

  48. bryansail

    On a much more vibrant blog (Richard C. Hoagland’s) I replied to Mr.
    Platts unsolicited ‘expose’ re; Mr. Hoagland’s credentials. I guess maybe
    you (Phil) ran out of movies to review? It’s funny because I see on your
    website you sell bad astronomy t-shirts and other essentials, yet you blast
    others for seeking publicity. Cute. I also see your advertising your fabulous award from Scientific American. I guess it’s o.k. to you that Scientific American is a second tier publication, which typically takes their information from true science journals and re-hashes them while trying to portray themselves as breaking the story.

    Here is my reply to your attempt to discredit Hoagland.

    bryansail said…

    So anonymous decides to attack RCH’s credentials here in a blog? Very
    interesting…What part of RCH really worries you? Your unsolicited ‘enlightenment’
    is not very central to the work (mixed w/ entertainment) being done here.

    I also have read these criticisms of RCH long before coming to this blog.
    Despite possible conflicts in origination of an idea (often a problem in REAL
    scientific discovery) and thus his ‘credentials’ he has shown amazingly good
    instincts over multiple decades. Of course you didn’t mention the other
    credentials that are ‘trotted out’ when he appears on Coast because they are
    not in question. In time Richard Hoagland will be given scientific respect and
    credit for popularizing and indeed originating truths and for taking
    on NASA when others would not. That he is sooo controversial is clearly an
    indicator that using the term ‘pseudo’ alongside his name is incorrect and a sad
    attempt to put a lid his claims. It would appear that you are a part of the huge problem
    that plaques science today. I suspect that you will also not have nearly
    the legacy that RCH will.

    Perhaps you should be blogging with those who are coloring the skies of Mars
    red, and those who are withholding images and data at NASA. You should be discussing
    models of life only existing in the narrow spectrum of ideal, earth-like conditions.
    I’m sure that blog will be a real snoozer, but you’ll likely have a wonderful time
    there. We have learned more about the universe in the last decade than we ever knew
    before, I’m sure there is a little sliver of it that you can excel in, but this blog
    is clearly not for you. Really what is it that bothers you about RCH? Is it that
    the cover ups are beginning to crumble and that the amazing discoveries
    waiting to be revealed far outweigh your narrow ‘expertise’. I’m sure your work is
    important as well, it’s too bad you feel the need to attempt to slice up another’s
    credentials, and try (though you fail) to discredit him.

    -actually your post IS important in that it is a great example of how
    many people from all walks of life are coming here to witness this
    pseudo-blog. No mention from you as to your (I imagine) belief that hurricane
    manipulation is impossible, no doubt that would be your claim or you
    perhaps would avoid the science of it and focus on who first came up
    with the idea….. because really that IS the most important thing huh?
    -Bryan

    9/9/05 9:19 PM

    Keep up the less than great job trying to discredit someone who will
    someday be recognized as being a giant in the field of scientific discovery.
    Hope it keeps your fledgling attempt at publicity/career going.

  49. I can just imagine you explaining this on Coast to Coast. I’m sure that by the time you got to “brown dwarf,” George’s eyes would have already glazed over. Kudos on not agreeing to have a “conversation” with Richard c. (Conman?) Hoagland. To do so would legitamize his “science” and, of course, there’s no possible way to do that.

  50. Tony

    bryansail said he was going to prove Hogeland’s credentials, yet immediately went into an attack on the great BA and didn’t say one thing about Hogeland’s credentials. I guess he realized he couldn’t prove any of Hogeland’s credentials and had nothing else to say. The sign of a small mind.

    Keep of the good work BA

  51. Ashwin

    Great work by the astronomers and a verry amazing discovery. Well written
    Ashwin

  52. Matthew 'Phoenix' Goldfinch

    A ‘quantum leap’ is a small change? I had always thought it meant something that had to happen all at once: For example, the jump of an electron between orbitals in an atom or (macroscopically) the signing of a document (that is, you’d be lauighed out of court if you alleged you were only half-bound by a contract because you only signed your first name).

  53. Matthias

    Regarding the exoplanet 2M1207b:

    Was the spectrum of light from the planet analyzed to determine whether it had the right mix of elements to exclude the possibility that it was a star?

    If not, then there’s still a possibility that 2M1207b could be a star. If the direction and velocity of 2M1207b and the parent star 2M1207A are similar enough to be within the margin of error for the motion tracking equipment, then they could simply be a pair of optical companion stars.

  54. James McDaniel

    Just make sure your daughter’s high school teacher doesn’t try to tell her that toilets flush in different directions on that planet :)

  55. I always had a problem when naming the first confirmed exoplanet. Discoveries goes as far as before 1990 but, at the same time, were not confirmed before 1996. I mean, it always seems the first observed-confirmed exoplanet is around 51 Peg.

    Darn, being specific is quite a pain in the ass.
    Sorry my ranting around here.

  56. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 67. McFly Says:

    I always had a problem when naming the first confirmed exoplanet. Discoveries goes as far as before 1990 but, at the same time, were not confirmed before 1996. I mean, it always seems the first observed-confirmed exoplanet is around 51 Peg.

    Don’t forget the pulsar planets of PSR B 1257 +12 discovered in 1991-2 by by Wolszczan & Frail using the Doppler shift effect in slightly disrupted pulsars beam. These pulsar planets are the one’s that have the record! ;-)

    There’s not just one confirmed exoplanet there either but a whole exotic exoplanetary system of four worlds orbiting a millisecond pulsar – located about 1,600 light years away in the constellation Virgo. These 4 Pulsar planets are arranged like a half-scale version of our inner solar system, the spacing being equivalent to the same proportions as Mercury, Venus and Earth while the tiny outermost world orbits at a distance equivalent to the middle of the asteroid belt in our system. All these worlds are far smaller than Jupiter or even the “Super-Earth” planet Gliese 581 c too.

  57. Messier Tidy Upper

    Actually the “first exoplanet confirmed” record situation is a bit more complicated as discussed on the BA blog thread “Astronomers see exoplanet orbiting its parent star” (posted on June 10th 2010) :

    [Me - comment # 30]

    @13. lordbubonicus Says:

    @Messier Tidy Upper: Wolszczan and Frail’s paper was published in Nature in 1992. I don’t know when the observations were made, but that’s why we normally state that the first exoplanets were discovered in 1992.

    The paper was announced on 9th January 1992 after a couple of years of work which started in about May 1990. (Source : Pages 108-109, New Worlds in the Cosmos – the discovery of exoplanets Michel Mayor & Pierre-Yves Frei, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2003.) So I guess it is fair to say either 1991 or 1992.

    Interestingly enough, there is also a sub-stellar object discovered in 1988 around the star HD 114762 by a team led by David Latham that may be either a planet or a brown dwarf that could also stake a claim as the first exoplanet ever discovered. (Pages 136-137, Mayor & Frei, 2003.)

    &

    [Me again - comment # 33 this time.]

    The object around HD 114762 is probably a brown dwarf around this Procyonese or sun-like type F9 V star – just a bit hotter & brighter than our Sun – but *if* the lower mass range turns out to be correct then this one could be the first extra-solar planet ever detected – albeit not confirmed for decades afterwards. Then again, if its actually at the highest mass of the possible range then HD 114762 b might be a red dwarf star rather a brown dwarf or exoplanet.

    So HD 114762 to be or not to be? Mass is the question!

    - With apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet for that one.

    NB. HD 114762 b has its own Wiki-page too from which I got much of that info but I won’t include the link here to avoid this going into moderation. Just type it in or cut’n'paste to the ‘search’ box.

    Hope this helps! :-)

    Of course, the odds of anyone seeing this now are remote but, oh well, what the blazes!

  58. Gabriel Rosa

    The link to the picture with the graphs doesn’t exist. The new link is: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso0515b/.

  59. Approximately one year ago, I read that a NASA group had proposed orbiting a group of satellites around the sun carrying telescopes that would be somehow synchronized so as to achieve a combined imaging power equivalent to a 300 foot diameter scope.
    Supposedly, this group of scopes would, in synch, have the imaging ability to discern distinguishable features on exoplanets (such as oceans, mountain ranges, etc.)
    Was this just a theory; or is the engineering feasible and the imaging mentioned even possible?
    Have they dismissed the idea? Did I misunderstand their proposal?

    Thank you very much.
    Joe

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