HUGE EXOPLANET NEWS ITEMS: PICTURES!!!

By Phil Plait | November 13, 2008 12:00 pm

This is incredible: For the first time, ever, astronomers have captured an optical image of a planet orbiting a star like our own.

And that’s not all: we also have a second picture showing TWO planets orbiting a second star!

(Calm down. Breathe, breathe.)

The first picture is from Hubble. Ready? Here it is:

Do you see it? That tiny spark, that wee blip of light? It may not look like much, but it is in fact a normal planet orbiting a normal star, 250 trillion kilometers from Earth.

Holy Haleakala.

The picture as a whole needs some splainin’. The star in question is Fomalhaut, a star easily visible to the unaided eye; it’s the brightest star in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, the 18th brightest in the sky, and only 25 light years away. It’s literally millions of times brighter than the planet, so the Hubble camera uses an occulting bar, a small piece of metal that blocks the brightest part of the star’s image. The blacked-out area in the center of the picture is where Fomalhaut is (also, the star’s image has been digitally subtracted using an image of another star as a template; that further reduces the amount of unwanted light). The radial lines are not real; they are an optical effect of the very bright star. The ring is real; it’s dust leftover from the formation of the star and the planet. In fact, the thinness of the ring was a big factor in assuming a planet was lurking there; the planet’s gravity sculpts the ring, keeping it narrowly confined. Also, the ring is off-center from the star, and a planet in an elliptical orbit would explain that nicely.

The planet itself is just that small dot, almost lost in the noise from the star and the light from the ring. I’ll be honest; had I been analyzing the image, I might have missed it at first. But it’s there, and it’s real. Images taken almost two years apart show that the planet is moving with the star, and is consistent with it orbiting Fomalhaut at a distance of about 18 billion km (11 billion miles). That’s four times the distance of Neptune from the Sun. It takes 872 years to make one complete orbit. The mass is not easy to determine, and is estimated using its effect on the ring; it’s likely to be about the same size and mass as Jupiter.

The planet is unnamed, and is simply called Fomalhaut b.

I am reeling from this image. Years ago, when I still worked on Hubble, I did some work on planetary debris rings like this, including seeing if we could directly see planets near stars. The amount of work that goes into this type of discovery is phenomenal, and so I’m stunned by the success of it.

This is huge news.

And it gets even huger. Because there’s more:

That image is the first to directly show two planets orbiting another star! It’s a near-infrared image using the giant Gemini North 8 meter telescope. Like in the Hubble image, the star’s light has been blocked, allowing the two planets to be seen (labeled b and c).

The star is called HR 8799. It’s a bit more massive (1.5 times) and more luminous (5x) than the Sun, and lies about 130 light years from Earth. The planets in this picture orbit it at distances of 6 billion km (3.6 billion miles) and 10.5 billion km (6.3 billion miles). A third planet, not seen in this image but discovered later using the Keck 10 meter telescope, orbits the star closer in at a distance of 3.8 billion km (2.3 billion miles).

So there it is. The first ever family portrait of a planetary system.

One thing that makes these particular planets a bit easier to find than usual is that they are young; HR 8799 and its children are only about 60 million years old. That means the planets are still glowing from the leftover heat of their formation, and that adds to their brightness. Eventually (in millions of years), as they cool, they will glow only by reflected light from the star, and be far harder to see. Fomalhaut b, in the Hubble image, is much older (200 million years), and glows only by reflected light from Fomalhaut. If it were much smaller or dimmer (or closer to the blinding light of the star), we wouldn’t have been able to see it at all.

These images were basically science fiction just a few years ago. Now they are fact. We have an optical picture of a planet orbiting another sun-like star, and a picture of two planets orbiting another star.

Wow. Just wow.

OK, now that you have the news, a few caveats. We now know of more than 300 planets orbiting other stars. And a planet has been imaged before, but it was orbiting a brown dwarf, which is different than a normal star like the Sun. Brown dwarfs are so-called "failed stars", much smaller than the Sun. Another possible planet orbiting a sun-like star has been imaged, but has not yet been confirmed. So these images here really are firsts. They are history.

I still can hardly believe it, and I worked on data like this! Yet there they are, proof that our planetary system is not the only one in the Universe. We knew this already; indirect evidence confirms planets and even multiple planetary systems around many nearby stars.

But there’s nothing like a picture. There, with your own eyes, you can see for yourself that other planets exist. They are not Earthlike, not even a little… they are massive, young, hot planets that are probably mostly gaseous and completely inhospitable.

But there they are.

In a few years, we’ll have more pictures like these. And we’ll get better. Our telescopes will get bigger, our equipment more sensitive, our techniques improved as we understand their capabilities. And the pictures of other planets will roll in.

How long before we see the Holy Grail, the first image of a terrestrial planet, orbiting a star like the Sun at just the right distance for liquid water to bathe its surface? It may not be for a decade or two, but mark my words: that day will arrive. And when it does, well, we’ll just have to rewrite the history books again, won’t we?

Comments (304)

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  1. Sam

    That really is super cool…

  2. darkkosmos

    Captured a dot on picture? What’s the point of the picture if you can’t get anything useful out of it?

  3. Reginald

    Anyone else getting a strange sense of Starship Enterprise-adolia from the first picture?

  4. reggie
  5. Ed

    On the Hubble image, what is the black dot in the lower left portion of the photo? Sun spot?

  6. John

    darkkosmos the picture alone provides plenty, and any more data acquired by spectrum analysis is a bonus

  7. Michelle
  8. Michelle

    …and of course, I meant cool. Oh boy.,

  9. Cheyenne

    I can’t wait to see what the next generation telescopes will reveal.

    If they find a planet in the habitable zone, would spectrum analysis be able to tell us if there is liquid water there? Maybe even some elements of life (like chlorophyll?) – I think I read somewhere that it could.

  10. rob

    this is cool. really cool.

    incidentally, how do they determine the ages of the planets as 60 or 200 million years old?

    are they fitting the temperatures to theoretical data on planet formation and cooling, or do they have some funky age-meter?

  11. Michael Capobianco

    Fomalhaut is in Piscis Austrinus, not Aquarius.

  12. Emily

    There are actually THREE planets imaged around HR 8799. All three are apparent in near-infrared images from the Keck II telescope, including orbital motion because there are images from 2004 and 2008.

    http://www.lowell.edu/media/releases.php shows all three planets, but not the orbital motion. I’ll link to that when I find it.

  13. Emily

    And, oh, yeah, NERDGASM!!!! That was meant to be implied.

  14. American Voyager

    Phil,

    You are like a kid at Christmas! Your excitement is contageous. Very cool image though! To think it’s around one of the brightest stars in our sky is also exciting. I can point it out to my children and tell them we have *seen* a planet orbiting that star. You’re right. It’s the stuff of science fiction. Wow! That’s all I can say. Just………WOW!

  15. Emily

    Image showing orbital motion:

    http://www.keckobservatory.org/images/article_pictures/231_403.jpg

    rob: The ages of the planets are based on the ages of the host stars so they may not be perfectly accurate for the planets, but they will at least be close (in astronomical terms – what’s a million years or two between friends?) .

    darkkosmos: A picture can say a LOT, especially when it is made from images taken with different filters (like the image I linked to above). And it will be possible to obtain spectra of these and similar objects in the very near future with instrumentation that is being developed. Spectra will give us even more information!

  16. Kristin C

    Yay this is awesome! That ring of gas is also really pretty.

    Reginald: I had no problems with catching the ‘dolia myself, even before you mentioned it.

  17. Brian Gefrich

    Holy crap.

    I’m just

    wow.

  18. Murff

    Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!!

  19. This morning Keck apparently had a press release about the second system and claimed a third planet was imaged as well. Then all that stuff vanished from their website and this comes out with a claim of only two planets. I think the group was fighting between being bold and risky, and being conservative but totally right, but I am only speculating. I know some of the folks involved and will see if I can get the scoop (although the timing is bad with the NSF proposal deadline Saturday).

  20. dkary

    I assume that the planet ages are really just how old the star is (based on stellar evolution models).

  21. FANTASTIC! Giordano Bruno was right!

    @ darkkosmos

    You’re a philistine.

  22. I second the Enterprise-adolia.

  23. Link to the Gemini Observatory press release:
    http://www.gemini.edu/node/11151

  24. Awesome!

    You just made my day, I now had something interesting to talk about at lunch time with my buddies ;-)

  25. Nice stuff! How long till I can but land on one of those planets? ;)

  26. The Keck observatory website press release has an image with all 3 planets in it. Interestingly enough, HR 8799 is metal-poor, which fits in with the pattern that higher-mass stars do not show the metal dependence seen in solar-type stars with planets.

    As for Fomalhaut b, there are indications that it has a circumplanetary disc similar to the one that Jupiter’s Galilean satellites formed from… the view from that planet must be pretty spectacular.

  27. tacitus

    Very cool, and yes, this is just the beginning of a golden age of exoplanet space exploration. Think about it, we are likely hundreds of years away from even being able to visit the nearest solar system in person, but within a few decades we could easily have found, imaged, and characterized tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other worlds, some of which will be like our own.

    Remember Hubble is really a first generation planet finder — perhaps not even that since it was never really designed to find exoplanets anyway. We already have missions like COROT working hard to find more exoplanets and within a few years there will several more spacecraft in orbit dedicated to looking for more.

    Imagine another 30, 40, 50 years from now where we’ll be. We could have a whole fleet of space-based interferometer telescopes heading for the outer solar system where Earthshine, the Sun, and Zodiacal Light don’t hamper the viewing. It’s going to be very, very cool.

    Unless there is some completely unforeseen breakthrough in physics and/or propulsion, we are stuck in our own solar system for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find out what there is out there to see once we can venture into interstellar space.

    So while we may have a long wait before we can make use of a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the writing of the Encyclopedia Galactica is about to begin in earnest!

  28. Brian Gefrich

    @Chris Owen – If Einstein is right, I’d say around 130 years, depending on whether the system is moving towards or away from us.

  29. Phil’s not the only one excited here. I’ve been working on this story for my own blog for a few days now, and just marveling at the pre-release images. This is the kind of discovery that really excited people about astronomy.

    I was just on Twitter tweeting back and forth with folks about this and suddenly the system ground to a halt… no doubt due to the excitement! ;) :) :)

    Oh, and darkkosmos.. go read the stories and the articles about these finds… that’ll wipe out your cynicism.
    :)

  30. Wade

    Rob:

    They figure the age the same way they “figure” everything else in cosmology:

    A WILD GUESS with little or no evidence.

  31. PG

    @darkkosmos: if you can image it, you can do spectroscopy on it and possibly get a lot more information about composition, temperature, etc.

    @Ed: that is probably the image of another star that happens to be in the same line of sight. It’s blacked out so as not to ruin the contrast in the rest of the image.

  32. PG

    Phil,

    Can you put links to the actual press releases? Thanks!

  33. UKian

    Thanks Phil, another good write-up. Just to be certain, the use of ‘optical’ means the frist picture was taken at visible light wavelengths?

  34. For a seriously “embiggened” picture of Fomalhaut & Fomalhaut b, click on my name.

  35. Chris A.

    @Phil:

    Uhhh, Fomalhaut is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus, not Aquarius. Aquarius’s lucida is Sadalsuud (Beta Aqr).

    But the discovery is uber-cool.

  36. Scott

    That is so cool!

  37. What desperately needs explaining is how scientists can tell that one dot from the rest of the noise. Did they just look at that picture and say, “There’s Bigfoot, right there”? Presumably not. So how’d they do it?

  38. Kullat Nunu

    Correction: Fomalhaut, “mouth of fish”, is in Piscis Austrinus, not in Aquarius.

    Unless I’m mistaken, the HR system article at Science Direct mentions three planets.

  39. Bobcloclimar

    I remember when I first learned about Fomalhaut about three years ago – someone pointed out that it resembles the Eye of Sauron.

    The black areas could also be a Battlestar next to a BaseStar. Or a Star Destroyer next to a space station of some sort.

  40. Kyle

    I think this is great vindication for the methods of finding planets. We thought it was a planet or planets causing the star’s light to change but we couldn’t be 100% sure, now with the direct photographic images we know its not some freaky activity on the star causing the fluctuations but real live planets!! WHOOPEEE

  41. PG

    OK- JPL press release just came in my email.. Click my name to Link to HST press release.

  42. Yay! A momentous day for Exoplanetology!

  43. Markus

    The german magazine Der Spiegel says they found 3 planets at HR 8799. They have some pics about this, too.

    http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/weltall/0,1518,590319,00.html

    Two or three – this is just great. :-)

  44. Very, VERY cool. And your excitement is very contagious!

  45. IBY

    Breath, Phil, breathe…

    WoW, FIRST OPTICAL PICTURE OF PLANET LIKE OUR SUN, AND FIRST PICTURE OF TWO PLANETS, WOOO!!!

    Sorry, lost my composture there.

  46. News Release – heic0821: Hubble directly observes planet orbiting Fomalhaut. Click on my name for the link.

  47. Is there any way to tell the composition of the atmosphere through these images?

  48. tacitus

    Remember the dismay when Hubble took its first picture once it got into orbit?

    I know since then there have been a slew of great photos—most notably the Hubble Deep Fields and the Pillars of Creation—but today all those who worked on the Hubble project from its inception and through the darkest hours deserve our thanks and praise for all the hard work and brilliant science and engineering that lead up to this day.

    So, thank you Hubble, and thank you everyone who worked on Hubble and supported it through the years.

  49. Sean

    Not that it much matters, but Fomalhaut is in Piscis Austrinus, not Aquarius. It is the brightest star in that part of the sky. Hard to imagine that when you stare at that incredibly bright point of light, you _know_ there are planets there.

  50. In the post, I do indicate there are three planets, but only two are seen in the Gemini image. I corrected the constellation for Fomalhaut, too: thanks.

    I wrote this post up under heavy embargo restrictions, and the Keck image was not available (or I didn’t see it) until after I posted. Figures. I may write up more about this, but wanted to get the news out ASAP.

  51. Reverend J

    Eh, not that exciting….

    Just kidding, that’s freakin’ awesome!!!

  52. changcho

    Very nice (what ‘nice’?? I meant great!) – keep ‘em coming!

  53. Andy Graulund

    Yaaaaaaaaaay! Amazing! :’)

  54. Phil, I’m confused about this part: “Images taken almost two years apart show that the planet is moving with the star”

    Doesn’t this mean that there is an image taken at least two years ago, thus making that one an older optical image? Or are we just talking about the visible spectrum or something?

  55. David

    As American Voyager says (and I echoed on Digg), the fact that we can POINT to the star and say “wow, you know what?…..”, just makes it icing on the cake !

    What a great day…what a great vindication of the work MANY must have put in…..and let’s not forget it’s a complete justification of the “wobble” theory and everyone’s hard work there.

    Well done everyone.
    Well done Mankind.
    Keep it up :)

  56. Also, how can you tell for sure that the dot is a planet, and not just noise like all the stuff around it? I mean, I’m not doubting you, I’m just curious what the other observations and calculations were that led astronomers to that little speck.

  57. aubreyfrost

    I got the chills over and over again reading this post. What great news!

  58. changcho

    Ah – Perhaps it should be mentioned: Our tax dollars at work!

  59. dan

    What an historic event, in a year so far filled with them. we are living in an exciting time for sure.

  60. The point is, Darkkosmos, is that we can gather useful. As Phil said, we know it’s orbit and once refined we’ll know it’s mass. We can probably get spectrographic information out of the picture to figure out it’s chemical composition. That’s just from one picture.

  61. Liz

    Phil, this is fantastic! I get chills as well. Just finished your new book, BTW–made me gasp with wonder and laugh out loud. Even got people in line for the bus talking about black holes! Keep up the great work.

  62. John Patterson

    We better get a fleet ready to defeat them!

  63. Daffy

    Fomalhaut…isn’t that where the Dorsai are from? I also think it was mentioned in a story by A.E. Van Vogt (Far Centaurus?).

    I love coincidences.

  64. Daffy

    Please, please, please let them name the planet Dorsai!

  65. Brewster

    I certainly recall that Ursula Le Guin predicted a Fomalhaut II planet – I wonder if the astronomers who have read “Rocannon’s World” will call it Rokanan?

  66. Ibeechu

    Having just finished reading Contact, those pictures really made me gasp, and I’m suddenly filled with hope for SETI. Absolutely amazing. Imagine what we’ll find in 20 years. Or 50. Or a hundred! I hope I’m around when we find something. Whatever it is.

  67. Mike Rondeau

    Well there looks like a few more “dots” in the picture. Do they suspect any other “dots” as being exoplanets?

  68. An inspired haiku:

    I am slack-jawed
    smacked in the gob, I am
    my mouth is agape

  69. Code

    This is all well and good but when will we be able to see hot women on these exoplanets?!?

  70. Gergs

    The only thing missing from this discovery is Carl Sagan. I think he would have been dancing on the ceiling when he saw these pictures. Billions and billions of planets, for sure.

  71. This is pretty amazing. One step closer to trying to find a way to get there.

  72. Pulled Pork

    Phil,

    You had me with this is incredible.

    Truely is. Something I never thought I would see.

    P.S. I am also glad the elction is over and you are back to doing incredible astronomy blogging.

  73. Undermentals

    Hmmmm, and what happened to Formalhut A, huh? Guess you thought you would slip that one past us? Another massive cover-up in the making by the astronomy community!

  74. BigBob

    Throw me down a mine shaft! I drool, sir, in jaw dangling awe.
    >Bangs head on desk to confirm reality<
    It just gets better and better and better!
    Bob(BIG)

  75. Formalhaut b? Ahh, this brings back memories of Frontier: Elite II. Awesome. Just awesome.

  76. Disciple of "Bob"

    Obviously, the closer planet is Vulcan, and the farther one is Qo’noS.

  77. Daniel

    To actually SEE another solar system…mind boggling. Hubble has achieved beyond greatness.

  78. chuck

    There are two questions outstanding in these comments that are actually related:

    1) How do they know its a planet.

    2) If they had a picture from two years before, how come we didn’t hear about this earlier.

    Here’s what happened: They took a picture two years before. Until they took the second picture, they had now way of knowing what the dot was. Take the second picture two years later and compare the two. Now they see a dot that has moved just about the right distance and just about the right direction to be a planet in orbit.

  79. Sundar

    First let us fix the world pollution, poverty, poor. What have we gained so far with all travel outside our earth which resulted with none to mankind. Lets be practical and be good to tax payers money. First lets fix our mankind and then explore outside of our universe. See how many millions are suffering without proper basic facility. Lets fix our climate issues and preserve our earth. Our earth and nature is realistic than 128 light distance.

  80. dan2

    Prepare for impact Phil, possible digg/reddit front page double whammy.

  81. David
  82. Dan

    CNN’s article on this is hilarious, since they use an artist’s rendering of an extrasolar planet on the main article article page. I mean, it’s not like have a real picture to use now, is there?

    Inside the pictures tab, it says that Hubble took a picture of Supernova 1987A in 1987. Which is impressive, considering it was not in orbit until three years later.

  83. Daniel

    This is the most significant astronomical event since the Moon Landings

  84. Ty

    Very cool stuff, will be great to see what is discovered on the face of these planets in time to come.

  85. justcorbly

    There can only be one “first time we imaged an exoplanet.”

    Glad I’m here when it happened. Proud to be part of homo sapiens.

  86. Paul M.

    WOW!

    and…

    Sundar – I pity you, that you fail to grasp the true wonderousness of this discovery – and so many others, many of which you will find reported on Phil’s blog here if you take the time to poke around.

  87. Daffy

    Sundar…the benefits to humanity of the manned space program have been absolutely tremendous. Even a tiny bit little research would show you that. For example, the “roto rooter” job they can do on the main artery to the brain has added years to people’s lives…including my own aunt; and it was a DIRECT result of developments that came about because of the manned space program.

    You are speaking from ignorance. Fortunately, a little reading will correct that for you. Although I doubt you will bother.

  88. Erik

    Trillion can be 10^18 and 10^12, it’s the latter since it’s 25 lightyears.

  89. Ken

    For the one who said this is stuff from science fiction. How so? In space there is nothing limiting us from seeing into infinity other than what is blocking our view. And at distanced of a lightyear and such, these objects become so small that just nudging our telescopes to the left allow us to look to the side of a galaxy. It’s not science fiction, its just science.

  90. WJM

    Moth.

    Rf.

    U.

    Wow.

  91. Sundar,
    I wonder if Christopher Columbus’ countrymen said the same thing…?

  92. chu kno watta ming meng?

    we should send cameras over there and spy on the aliens… what if theyre smarter than us, get pissed off and send bombs our way the size of 5 nuclear ones. ang jus high chu kno watta ming meng?

  93. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Wonderful! Caught this just before bed time, so it’s going to be sweet dreams for sure.

  94. And then a decade after that, we’ll have first-year astronomy students determining orbital periods from Kepler’s laws, the stellar properties, a photograph, and a caliper…

  95. Shal

    Dear lord, this is truly fascinating. o.o!

  96. Naomi

    …That is just about the coolest thing ever. Are they planning on using spectography on it?

  97. DexX

    I recall Fomalhaut being a favourite of H. P. Lovecraft, too.

    Amazing news.

    And to those whining about how this money has been wasted, stop being stupid. We have plenty of resources available to explore space AND fix the environment AND end poverty. Our terrestrial problems continue because of politics, centuries-old grudges, and rampant capitalism which places profit on a pedestal and lets human dignity fall by the wayside.

    Before whining about the billions spent on the space program over many decades, how about complaining about a trillion dropped into a supposed “free market” by a government that cries poor when its own people can’t get basic medical care.

    If the world was a perfect place, we’d be spending money on feeding and housing everyone, making sure our land, water, and air are healthy, AND exploring space.

  98. Jeff Fite

    The amount of work that goes into this type of discovery is phenomenal, and so I’m stunned by the success of it.

    Phil, would you blog about the process, someday? A lot of amateur astrophotographers would be fascinated!

  99. ZOMFSM that is so brilliant!

  100. KJZ

    WOW! This is awsome news, a huge step forward.

    @Sundar, While almost all of your desires would be nice. They are very unrealistic. Not that we can not do them but that history teaches us we will not do them. We are more likely to develop faster than light drive before we fix mankind.
    I would also like to point out that according to a goverment study, every dollar spent in the 1960s on the space program has returned about (I don’t remember the exact figures) one hundred dollars to the 1990s American economy. Space is our future, I doubt that anyone would seriously disagree.

  101. Neil

    Right, so when do we leave? I have to run some errands first so how about right after lunch?

    Shall I pack a swimsuit? What about sunblock?

  102. Tim Gleeson

    Has anyone else noticed that the first picture looks like a guy wearing sunglasses?

  103. kuhnigget

    On the Yahoo website, the teaser image for this news story has been doctored to include a bright dot in the center of the void left by the removal of the star. I know it’s just a tease, as the picture in the main story does not include the dot, but still, kind of lame.

  104. I’d like to know… can we build a larger telescope in orbit so we can see these planets up even closer? Or is that an amateurish question? I’ve often wondered if we could build a network of space-based telescopes so we could “interpolate” a “virtual mirror” that’d be larger than the sum of its parts, almost like a sort of 3D stereoscopic telescope? Or is that even a sensible question? Thanks!

  105. FTL_TRAVEL_NOW

    1 Astronomical Unit = 150000000 km

    Orbital distances in AU’s:
    Fomalhaut b = 18000 / 150 = 120 AU
    HR 8799 a = 3800 / 150 = 25 AU
    HR 8799 b = 6000 / 150 = 40 AU
    HR 8799 c = 10500 / 150 = 70 AU

  106. amphiox

    Sundar, two questions for you:

    1. What’s wrong with trying to do both?

    2. Do you really think we would succeed at doing the one, without doing the other also?

  107. did you ever think it meight be Jesus coming for his people

  108. Richie Robins

    That’s great.

    I have always believe that mans future is in the stars. If not God would of never given us the intelligence to acquire such knowledge to learn about space itself. Yet, it amazes me that most people don’t recognize the extreme importance of space research.

    People tend to worry more about the buck than mankind survival. It is only when mankind is in jeopardy that people would tend to recognize the great importance of space research. Is it our fate to die the way of the dinosaurs?

    For me, space research is more than just – the search for extra-terrestrial life out there; but for the protection and advancement of mankind. Imagine finding a way for space debris (Meteors) from hitting the planet, or colonizing space in man made cities or ships in outer-space due to the over growth of the human population. Imagine colonizing another (earth like) planet, or using radiation, the coldness, or energy of space to power ships.

    These are the things that I have always believed that mankind will eventually find ways to do. Yet for know this is only a dream from a dreamer.

    PS> Keep looking to the stars.

  109. Counterglow

    Imagine what we’ll be able to see when we get around to putting a really big telescope above the atmosphere. I know how Keck works, but I can’t help but believe we’ll do even better if we get a great, big mirror (or a lot of little ones) out of the atmosphere.

  110. Richie Robins

    That’s great.

    I have always believe that mans future is in the stars. If not God would of never given us the intelligence to acquire such knowledge to learn about space itself. Yet, it amazes me that most people don’t recognize the extreme importance of space research.

    People tend to worry more about the buck than mankind survival. It is only when mankind is in jeopardy that people would tend to recognize the great importance of space research. Is it our fate to die the way of the dinosaurs?

    For me, space research is more than just – the search for extra-terrestrial life out there; but for the protection and advancement of mankind. Imagine finding a way for space debris (Meteors) from hitting the planet, or colonizing space in man made cities or ships in outer-space due to the over growth of the human population. Imagine colonizing another (earth like) planet, or using radiation, the coldness, or energy of space to power ships.

    These are the things that I have always believed that mankind will eventually find ways to do. Yet for know this is only a dream from a dreamer.

    PS : Keep looking to the stars

  111. Elaine

    Sundar and all who replied: we all need to question why it’s expenditure on science, the arts, etc. that is seen as frivolous – a few billion less on military hardware would go further towards solving some problems than cutting the paltry amount spent on science, the arts etc., expenditure that enriches us all.

  112. FTL_TRAVEL_NOW

    Fun, but these numbers put it into perspective:

    Distances from us, in AU’s:
    Fomalhaut system = 250000000 / 150 = 1666666 AU
    HR 8799 system = 1300000000 / 150 = 8666666 AU

  113. Jaw, meet floor. Floor, jaw.

    Just incredible!

  114. FTL_TRAVEL_NOW

    And for comparison:

    Distances of planets already (or soon to be) visited by us, in AU’s:
    Moon = 0.4 / 150 = 0.0025 AU
    Mars = 55 / 150 = 0.3 AU

  115. Mark

    Mate, you must be Carl Sagan’s love child. You have his contageous love of astronomy. We certainly live in interesting times only to surpassed when we finally get out there.

  116. Dave

    All the more reason to save the Hubble!

  117. space cadet

    Hold on just a second, please. A long long time ago, I went on one of my ‘we who read and write here are not the audience we need to reach’ rants and referred to an enologist I worked with who saw an artist’s conception of an exoplanet on line or in a (gasp) magazine, and thought it was a photograph. I told him that we didn’t have real photographs of these planets yet. But when I told the story here, our host informed me (and, us) that there already was such a photo. So I ask: is this really the first shot of an exrta solar planet, or is it just media hype?

  118. Matthew

    Curious how the Hubble news got out just before the news from the Gemini telescope.
    Also it was interesting how well the scientists verified their findings before they released the information to the public.

    A job well done by both organizations. I rate this of great import comparing it to the discovery of Uranus by Herschel.

  119. Too Sundar: Always people want to put NASA’s budget on the chopping block. Why? It’s to easy to say that the exploration of space, both manned and unmanned, is a waste of time and money. It is not and you wouls be suprized at the spin off technologies from NASA projects.

    The total U.S. Federal budget for F.Y. 2008 was $2.9 TRILLION!!!!

    NASA’s budget for 2008: $17.3 Billion.
    11 other departments recieved more for thier budgets than NASA. Including the “Global War on Terror” which recieved nearly 10 times the money than NASA.

    Click on my name to see where your tax dollars went this last year.
    This took all of about 30 seconds to find. It took longer to write this post.

    Now… I heard about this while drivingfrom my last job of the day and couldn’t wait to see what the BA had. Not dissapointed. Awsome….just awsome. Gotta love science :)

  120. amazingness

    I have always been interested in this kindof stuff- which is a wee bit weird for an 11 year old- and I am paralized in awe!!!! It it’s such a big step in or search for other planets!!! who knows what we’ll find on this planet!? And if not this one, others near it!!!?????? SO AMAZING!! This even adds to my desire to be an astronomer when I grow up!!! mabey we might find some quantum physics answers out there- which is my other obssession.!
    It’s soooo cool that we’ve final found something like this!! I know it will lead to other alien life!! whoever thinks that there isn’t will finally be proved wrong! I don’t know hwo somebody could even think that with this proof!

  121. MarkH

    Just an amusing side about budgets…. The DOD Advertising <—– ADVERTIZING!!! budget for 2008 was $1.4 BILLION

    Just tired of people lookin to axe NASA's budget!?!?:)

  122. January

    Thanks for the main article. I only caught the story on the evening CNBC news and they were incapable of explaining it lucidly. Isn’t it mostly a tribute to the breathtaking creativity of the guys who operate the tools of astronomy? It took a lot dedication to produce those photos. And, yes, as one commentor mentions, it does confirm that those who theorized by induction that the data at issue could be assigned to a planet in orbit were correct.

    But gimme a break. I grew up on dime novel science fiction but in my dotage I prefer science to fiction. Carl Sagan, may he rest in peace, was a great promoter. Dare I point out his evidence of billions of stars when combined with knowledge our sun is a star therefore means a near-certainty of habitable planets is more fiction than science?

    The affirmations on this blog of assurances that there “must be” a planet out there with water, etc. has zero scientific credibility. Zero. Do I believe that if we are able to survive our own self-destructiveness we may someday locate a habitable exoplanet? Sure, I can believe that because such a belief does not depend on science.

    Is it not more scientifically responsible to assume that our experience here is unique in the universe? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the honest scientist says, I dunno. I hate to see us accepting the destruction of Earth on the excuse that maybe there’s life somewhere else. Yes, maybe. But also maybe not. Does “not” not have a place in science?

  123. Supernova

    Fabulous! Thanks for this!

  124. I posted this to my own blog with the observation that after all those Hubble Telescope jokes when the device was originally deployed, the Hubble team now officially has the last laugh. Wonderful.

  125. ndt

    Just saw this on the BBC. Very, very exciting.

  126. Phil,
    I have a question,
    does NASA share its images with amateurs? or certain amateur groups?
    With all due credit to professional astronomers, I have noticed that sometimes amateurs are really good at picking out useful stuff from almost random images. They sometimes have a better “eye” for such things.

    Regards
    - Shubhendu

  127. «bønez_brigade»

    Good stuff, this is.

  128. GYC

    If you look at the picture in a small format it looks as though the image is a huge eye looking at us.Check it out.

  129. Joshua

    Formalhaut b or bust.

  130. MikeFive
  131. Best news I’ve heard today by far. Most exciting science news in yonks.

    So the planet is 4 times the distance of Neptune to the sun out? Means you could probably squeeze in a quite a few more planets. I guessing in a few years we’ll have enough planetary systems “mapped” to work out out an average planetary population per star?

  132. Werner

    Hi Phil, I’m actually puzzled.
    Taking the formula from your earlier post on ‘why not pointing Hubble at the moon’, we can get an approximate size of the planet for it to be resolved by Hubble:
    0.1 arcseconds = d*206265/250e12

    with this, the diameter turns out to be in the order of 121 million kilometers, or a 1000 times as large as Jupiter.

    Can you shed some light on this (no pun intended)?

  133. ohno

    I really wish people would stop saying “Wow. Just wow.”

    Good news though.

  134. Here’s some useless information: Although Fomalhaut b is about 4 times the distance of Neptune from its parent star, Fomalhaut is almost 16 times the luminosity of the Sun. So, according to inverse-square law (click on my name for details), Fomalhaut b receives approximately the same amount of solar radiation as Neptune.

  135. csrster

    This is very exciting and I have to say I’m much more moved by these images than I am by yet-another-pretty-nebula-in-glorious-technicolor on APOD.

  136. Wow, can we really believe we are alone?
    And, what if light years to us are light seconds to “others” outside the planet???

    Thanks for sharing this!!

    Warmly,
    Pam
    Pam Ragland ~ Human Behavior and Change Expert
    ~ http://www.AskPamRagland.com

  137. ..reminds me of a “Pale Blue Dot” – Sagan

  138. Werner I don’t understand. The planet was not resolved by Hubble; it’s still a point, a dot in the image. It may look like it’s spread out over several pixels, but that’s a natural outcome of optics; even a point source that is infinitely small would still appear to be spread out. That pattern is called the Point Spread Function, or PSF, and is a characteristic of the telescope, the detector, and even the wavelength of light detected.

  139. guestwork

    This was my “holy cow” moment of the day when I saw it in the news some time earlier. I don’t think “the public” or “the media” at large really even begin to grasp just how big and significant this news really is. It’s also one of those things where I have to wonder how I’d explain to my kids what it was like when this indeed was merely science fiction, when even just discussing exoplanets would get you funny looks from self-described “serious” astronomers who for all intents and purposes assumed you to be some sort of UFO believing lunatic. I never had any doubt that planets must be more or less common out there. Now they’re popping up like mushrooms in a rainforest, and can even be seen in the visible spectrum.

    Look, there it is. In Kre Di Bi Le.

  140. a simon
  141. My semi-cousin Zaphod (we share three of the same mothers) sub-lets his ocean front condo there if your interested.

  142. This is pretty amazing. One step closer to trying to find a way to get there.

  143. Eduardo

    This is great news indeed! I agree with what people said before: your enthusiasm is contagious :)
    I’m really glad to know there’s many so passionate about our universe. I stumbled here through Slashdot and I must say the article is very clear and explained in really simple words; words that someone who’s knowledge of astronomy gets as far as looking up in a starry night and be overwhelmed by the variety that the night sky has to offer.

    Thanks a lot! I’m sharing the article :)
    Best wishes!!
    Ed

  144. daniel from the philippines

    oh…my..GOD..
    it’s like fantasy but i’ve to admit—there really are exoplanets!
    …..
    i’m just so speechless…WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!

  145. TheWalruss

    @January:

    The thing is that we can use statistics to scientifically extrapolate scientific findings. So when we look at the formation of star systems and see a probability for planet formation, we can multiply that out by the number of known stars to get a probability distribution over the possible numbers of planets.

    Further applications of theories of planetary formation, distribution of elements in the cosmos, and so on brings us to the scientific conclusion that it would be statistically unlikely for the Earth to be the only ‘nice’ planet in the galaxy.

    This belief is based on sound science; with some reasonable assumptions we can even estimate the number of habitable exoplanets in our galaxy.

    All that being said, we will never be able to make a space ship capable of moving 10 billion people to another planet, so whatever the probability a second Earth can be found in our neighborhood, we cannot accept the destruction of this one because it would be horrendous and unfair to the billions of humans that have to live with the aftermath, or die trying.

  146. DarthVADER

    Damn,,,,, Earth Engineers must start building fast engine starship so humankind can establish new planet colony to rule or make new start up base in that galaxy.

    Master WINDU

  147. Gustaf

    To my untrained eye, any one of the bright spots in either image could be a planet too. As far as I understand, you need at least 2 images two tell whether it’s a planet or not, by comparing which of the spots that are moving. Right?

  148. Nigel Depledge

    Phil, I so live when you wax ecstatic over scientific discoveries like this. Your post on this is a great read.

    To those commenters who see this as evidence for ET life: calm down, get a grip. We have known about exoplanets for more than a decade. The key point about this is that we now have an image of one taken using optical light. This in no way changes the likelihood of ET life existing.

  149. Bobby Thomas

    The CNN website is covering this story right now–it’s on their frontpage. However, they’re using what looks to be an -edited- photograph of Fomalhaut (there’s a little white dot in the center in their copy), but the article focuses on the optical image of the star with the planetary system.

    They do not, however, provide the image of that one.

    They also say this: “The first-ever pictures of planets outside the solar system…”

    I was also under the impression–thanks to random Googling and to Phil–that the first-ever pictures of exoplanets belonged to a brown dwarf star and a little planet booger.

    No?

    Should I GG CNN?

  150. Bobby Thomas

    For what it’s worth, I’m delighted CNN has front-paged an astronomy article. :D

  151. Bobby Thomas

    Oh, oh!

    I’m a noob.

    There’s a little gallery button that (1) shows a brief history of astrophotography that (2) culminates with the photos of Fomalhaut (edited) and the star with the planetary system.

    Still, shame for not actually linking those with the article. :|

  152. iggy

    Its the eye of Sauron!!!!

  153. Biddie

    The link on today’s APOD let me arrive here to your entry – thanks for adding more info – and your enthusiasm!

  154. So cool! And thank you for pointing out just how cool it is. The personal experiences menioned here bring the discovery *even more* to life!

  155. The Toronto Star – one of the major Canadian newspapers – has this as its lead front-page story today, with a large picture of one of the Canadian astronomers who worked on the HR 8799 images.

    Click my name for a link to the story online.

  156. SHADOWFOX2448

    kool they sould make a how do they do it of pantets and stuff lol :D

  157. Zurack

    That’s simply incredible! Could someone post a link for the image without the yellow magnification box? (Just the “raw” image)

  158. Steve Schaper

    It looks like in the full rez they also captured the outer ring shepherd about 120 degreess (give or take) clockwise from b. Or it could be a background star, of course.

  159. magista

    Thanks Phil! Your enthusiasm has earned you my “Physics in the News” slot for the week in the classroom. :D

  160. kuhnigget

    @ large blubbery tusked mammal:
    “All that being said, we will never be able to make a space ship capable of moving 10 billion people to another planet…”
    There are close to 600 million people living in North and South America. How did those Europeans fit all those colonists in their wee little boats?!

  161. Mike

    Maybe that is where the fraud, Obama, is from since he refuses to present his birth certificate on this planet.

  162. Steve A

    This is very cool news if it turns out to be fact. What’s amazing is that it is on the front page of many newspapers, if not the A section. I really want this to be confirmed by another party, though. It’d be great to have a new exoplanet hunting technique. Until then, there is doubt about the conclusion. I’m sure there’s going to be a boatload of observation to verify this.

  163. Tony

    Hey Darkcosmos.
    You really sound like an stupid ignorant !!

  164. OtherRob

    Wow, just wow! (Sorry, Ohno :-) )

    You know, I think that all of the responses to darkkosmos kinda miss the point. Yes, there is much information we can gather from optical images. But that’s not what’s important.

    darkkosmos, we took a picture of a planet around another star! We did that! And if you can’t understand why a whole bunch of human beings are walking around today with a big ol’ smile in their hearts, I’m not sure anyone can help you understand it.

  165. Wow three planetary system photographed! where can I get the cartesian ephemeris ?

  166. i think the whole thing is crazy and nuts like the nutty profesor if there is anything out there we’re waisting our time and money looking to find a planet with living creatures we will never see this in our time or 100 years from now we can even put another man on the moon yet alone discover a planet with living extraterrestrials big joke.instead of science trying to find a martian try to find a cure for cancer.Let the solar system be if god wanted more earthlings they would have been here already.Black holes universe 0uter space stars,Outer space trillions of miles away where there is no end to the universe is worhtless to us if we can’t get there.Maybe in 5000 years from now a real scientist will discover how to get there by gravitational pull in a future solar space rocket of some sort to pevent it from disentegrating in space until then waistless.

  167. Spoon fed Crocodile

    What an awesome birthday present!
    I must agree with a couple points made earlier on here..
    We must not assume that just because we find a habitable exo-planet that we could just start over there. Finding one is a very different thing from even sending a probe to it, much less colonizing.
    Even if there are millions of exo-earths in our galaxy, our earth is still a rare jewel, unique in the universe. There will be no other quite like it.

  168. AndyS

    I don’t see why everyone’s getting so worked up.
    I thought we already knew this stuff.
    This picture doesn’t change much for me because I already believed in other terrestrial planets and I’m sure there are plenty of solar systems in the universe just like ours.
    It’s not that scary of an idea to think about other living creatures on other planets either.
    If someone believes that we are the only intelligent life-form in the entire universe, doesn’t that seem a little conceited?
    People just need to realize and stop ignoring it.

  169. Ricardo Balmut

    Thank you for writing this article.

    I def did not understand the pictures when I fist saw them.

    I was very informative and well written, now I am looking forward to that day when we discover a planet that is capable of or already harboring life!!

    Exciting!

  170. Cosmo

    Wait, you’re being serious? I read about this earlier and I enjoyed it and found it interesting, but for some reason the whole article you wrote seemed as if it was utterly sarcastic.

  171. kuhnigget

    Ralph is apparently trying to save the world one punctuation mark at a time.

  172. IVAN3MAN

    @ kuhnigget
    :lol: Nice one!

  173. Zurack:

    That’s simply incredible! Could someone post a link for the image without the yellow magnification box? (Just the “raw” image)

    Click on my name, and the link will direct you to the HST ACS/HRC wide view of Fomalhaut system picture without the annotations. At that web-site, you can download the image size of your choice.

  174. paul mann

    We found a lot of exoplanets, so maybe there are 200 million like-earth planets, none however emits radio waves of intelligent life. We found however many sources of radio-waves, all pulsars and black holes the two ‘babies’ the lhc will try to manufacture at geneva next year, massing together quarks into mass bombs (M=e/c2). We find even dark galaxies very heavy probably made of black holes. They are everywhere, they are the predators of the Universe. But the human microbia is optimist, it is going to make them at home. The human microbia is very ‘macho’. But the big MACHO, the Massive Halo Objects of the galaxy might eat planets of human microbia.

  175. Jason Andrews

    Is it just me, or does this solar system look like the eye of Saran from Lord of the Rings? Just wondering if we look further in the sloar system we will see Frodo and Sam as a constellation somewhere on their way to Mordor getting rid of that ring.

  176. CC Lawhon

    So to me, I think it’s hugely embarassingly small of us to assume that ALL intelligent life needs water/O2. There are so many more possibilities for life than we are open to, but I AM glad we are finally accepting the reality of more planets and solar systems. Good for humans!! And good work to all the scientists who developed this technology and day after day dedicated themselves to these proofs and discoveries. Kudos.

  177. Jacquie Meade

    This news is truly awesome! That’s how I found out about this blog. And to think that there are other planets out there. Wow! I’m wetting my knickers just thinking about it.

  178. Frodo

    AHHH ITS THE ALL-SEEING EYE FROM LORD OF THE RINGS!!

  179. It’s so wonderful.

  180. Z. Cochrane

    Sundar is one of these negative people who can’t see past his own reality. He’d prefer to focus on misery, suffering and ineptitude while always seeing the glass as half empty. People with those attitudes are losers and never accomplish anything in life. Positive people look forward to the future because the answers to our problems here on Earth are out there.

    If it wasn’t for the Apollo program, we wouldn’t have integrated circuits, modern computers, HDTV, the internet or the technology to find these planets. If we want to jump forward again, another Apollo-type program for a mission to Mars would do it.

    And FWIW, putting humans on other planets is another manifestation of the survival instinct. If something happened to Earth, the human species would go on. Not having a manned space program to reach other planets would be suicide.

  181. For anyone who’s interested in how to find the Sun while looking up at the night sky of the Fomalhaut system, I’ve added a bit to an old blog post of mine to help answer that question. Scroll down to the bit that says “Added 15 November 2008″.

  182. StevoR

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    To all involved in this imaging feat. Thisis just so gob-smackingly , breath-tyakingly awesome!

    I’m stunned and delighted! 8) :-D 8)

  183. StevoR

    Thanks grmcdorman for your post on November 14th, 2008 at 8:06 am saying :

    “The Toronto Star – one of the major Canadian newspapers – has this as its lead front-page story today, with a large picture of one of the Canadian astronomers who worked on the HR 8799 images. Click my name for a link to the story online.”

    I did click your name & enjoyed the link – great to see the Canadian papers story – which I must admit seem better than my Aussie ones on this topic! ;-)

    Thanks too Dr Phil Plait for passing along this amazing and marvellous news. I am so thrilled to hear it! 8) :-D 8)

  184. I share your elation at this discovery. Dis-reguard meth-head darkkoswiene’s comment. It said that when it saw it’s first empty syringe.

  185. Kyle

    Same God? Does God have a brother? Is there really a God? No one really knows.

  186. TERRY

    What a load. And we really landed a man on the moon?

  187. B

    one thing is certain: there is a lot more to these stellar-planetary associations than is depicted in the image. there are probably numerous terrestrial bodies similar to the earth and mars and venus. me thinks some of these unseen bodies may be oceanic worlds with thunder storms and lightning. the bluish element may also suggest arid landscape consisting of salt covered terrain. some of the bodies could be frozen worlds of whiteness with ice and ocean hundreds of kilometers in depth.
    see eso european south observatory image of ab pictoris and companion.

  188. Thanks for this info! It was very inspiring to me. I had to make a little song, named Formalhaut B and inspired by the theme in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. If you want the mp3, check my blog out, there’s a direct link there that should work; if not, send me an e-mail and I’ll send you the mp3.

    Kind regards, Patrick Fridh Aka Bitley, Sweden.

  189. Kris

    This means the Steelers are actually going to the Super Bowl. Thanks!!

  190. 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, “Today Mars, Tomorrow The Stars,” and the EP “Fomalhaut b” (the entirety of which can be downloaded at the previous link in mp3 form)(for now…) 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)
    (correspondance and lyrics upon request at: cloan1@gmail.com)

  191. StevoR

    A couple of other related exoplanetary systems of note (for context) are :

    ***

    1) Pollux & “Polydeuces” : This is the brightest star (mag. 1.16 Famalhaut = mag. 1.17) and the only first magnitude star known to boast an exoplanet – although Fomalhaut and Vega have disks with suspected planets inside. At just 34 light years away this is the closest of the orange giants and has almost identical apparent and absolute magnitudes. The 17th brightest star in the sky (Fomalhaut is the 18thbrightest in apparent magnitude or as we see it from Earth) Pollux is suspected of being a secular or historical variable having possibly brightened since the 1700s. Its exoplanet – sometimes unofficially dubbed ‘Polydeuces’ based on an alternative version of Pollux’s name – has a circular 590 day orbit and weighs in at triple Jupiter’s mass. The planet is located in the equivalent position of between Earth and Mars in our solar system but with its giant orange sun bathing it in 16 times the solar radiation an looming six times larger in its skies, this superjovian world and any of its moons are – beyond much reasonable doubt – currently uninhabitable.

    2) 2M 1207b : the first exoplanet photographed. (Although contending claims have been made.) A very distant planet orbiting 55 AU from its brown dwarf sun which has 25 times the mass of Jupiter. This planet was photographed by a European-American team using the Yepun telescope at the Chilean European Southern Observatory on April 27th 2004. A 5 Jupiter-mass exoplanet or perhaps brown dwarf this planet is 55 AU from its dim brown dwarf sun which is a member of the TW Hydrae association of stars all about 8 million years old. This exoplanet or brown dwarf’s name in full is actually 2 MASSW J1207334-393254!

    3) GQ Lupi b & AB Pictoris b : are rival claimants to the “first exoplanet imaged” title, GQ Lupi b which could be anywhere from 1 to 42 Jupiter masses is extremely young and orbits not a fully formed star but rather a protostar at a distance of 100 AU. Given the uncertainties in its mass and nature, its claim is dubious but it was imaged earlier than 2M1207 b – also by the ESO’s Yepun scope. Third claimant for that “first exoplanet imaged” title, AB Pictoris b is a very distant, object right on the brown dwarf-exoplanet borderline orbiting a 30 million year old K2 orange dwarf star at the vast distance of 250 AU. It is most likely a brown dwarf but was imaged earliest of the three – in March 2003.

    4) Er Rai – Gamma Cephei b : Before Pollux’s exoplanet was discovered this was previously the brightest star known to have an orbiting exoplanet. The star is yellow sub-giant of 3rd mag (app.) located 45 ly. off – but unfortunately is also a northern circumpolar star. Er Rai (also spelt Errai) is also a spectroscopic binary star with a red dwarf star accompanying the sub-giant separated by about the equivalent of the Sun-Ouranous distance. (19 AU or 2,870 million km.) Errai’s exoplanet holds over 1.5 Jovian masses and orbits equivalent to just beyond Mars position in our solar system.

    5) Ain or Epsilon Tauri b : the star across from Aldebaran in the Hyades with a name meaning the “Bull’s eye” Ain is a G9 type giant star 155 light years away and “weighs in” at 2.7 solar masses. This makes it themost massive (then atleast -still Ithink also?) star to boast a planet and also the first planet found in an open cluster. (An exoplanet has also been found in a globular cluster, M4, around a pulsar-white dwarf binary – PSR B 1620-26 b sometiems dubbed theGeneisis or Methuselah planet.) Ain or Espilon Tauri’s exoplanet contains 7.6 times Jupietr-masses and orbits its dying golden gaint in 595 days (1.63 years) at an average distance of 1.9 AU. (See James Kaler’s superb Stellar website & esp. his “planet Project” page for details.)

    6) Epsilon Eridani b : The nearest star with an exoplanet – at least one & maybe two planets orbit, this a K2 type orange dwarf which is the tenth nearest star to our Sun at a distance of 10 and half lightyears. Epsilon Eridani b has been precisely measured to be 1.5 Jupiter masses and is in an eccentric elongated orbit ranging from as close as Earth’s position to as far as Jupitrs from its cooler and younger sun. (See Astronomy magazine article Dec. 2007 by Ray Villard -”Does life exist on this exoplanet” Short answer – probably not but maybe a remote chance of it developing one day on a moon of Epsilon Eri. b! Also Ken Croswell many years ago wrote another artcile for ‘Astronomy’ magazine on it.)

    7) Lalande 21185 ? : A possible rival for Epsilon Eridani as nearest exoplanetary system, dubious claims have been but NOT confirmed (as far as I know so far) for planets around this nearby red dwarf star. Lalande 21185 is the 4th nearest star system to ours behind Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star & Wolf 359 lying 8.3 ly off but still managing only 8th magnitude or so in brightness a demonstration of the intrinsic faintness of such M2 class red dwarfs!

    8) Edasich or Iota Draconis b : Like 47 Ursae Majoris, another northern circumpolar star with an exoplanet and one of only four stars with exoplanets to boast a proper name – Edasich being a corruption of the Arabic for male hyena! (The others are Pollux, Ain and Errai,.) This K2 orange giant has a superjovian exoplanet (or perhaps Brown dwarf) with at least nine x Joves mass circling it once very 536 days – quite similar to Pollux b’s 590 day period. Unlike “Polydeuces” however, Edasich b’s orbit is highly elliptical ranging from 0.4 out to 2 Astronomical Units.

    &

    9) Gliese 581 : This system was much hyped for the recent discovery of the Gliese 581c, the lowest mass – five earth’s – exoplanet yet found that occurred earlier this year. It was proclaimed by some that the middle lower mass planet in this three planet system was “Earth’s big sister” and the first possibly habitable planet discovered – but a few notes of caution need sounding : Firstly we simply don’t really know what a 5-earth-mass planet is likely to be like. It could possibly be more like a mini-Neptune or a totally water-covered or exotic “hot (high pressure) ice” world rather than anything remotely like Earth. Secondly, re-examination of likely conditions make it seem the original optimistic estimate of Gliese 581c’s likely temperatures was way-off with the most likely scenario being more akin to a higher gravity version of Venus than Earth. Then we’ve got to take into account the problem of largely past flare activity, tidal locking, lesser metallicity and a number of other such things … That said the discovery of Gliese 581c is still a positive sign and well worth further investigation! The system also backs up the trend for low-mass stars to have generally low mass planets with Gliese 581, a real average M3 red dwarf star located 20.5 ly off – & positioned right next to Beta Librae (Zubeneschmali) in our skies – which seems stable and has lower than solar metallicity boasting three confirmed exoplanets – an innermost 15 earth-mass Hot Neptune orbiting in 5 days, our famed five-earth mass probable Super-Venus orbiting in a day short of a fortnight and an outer 8 earth-mass extrasolar planet that may be a slightly better – though still dubious – bet for potential habitability orbiting in 84 of our days. This indication that low mass worlds are common especially around the most common type of star is perhaps the strongest bit of good news to come from the discovery and bodes well for future even better habitable planet candidates.

    ***

    From my own ‘Remarkable Exoplanets Liszt” compiled from various sources and now needing updating once again.

    Not that I’m complaining! ;-)

  192. StevoR

    So putting it all together, what sort of world is Fomalhaut b really then? What do we know and guess about it?

    Its four times as far from its Sirius-like A type sun as Neptune & yet recieves the same amount of light as Neptune gets – Thanks IVAN3MAN for that!

    Its young and hot and Jovian in nature – thus still glowing from the heat of its formation and all that extra energy must create vast roiling storms like upsized Great Red Spots. It maybe surrounded by vast rings and an asortment of battered moons with material perhaps even now falling into its clouds – there’s so much more debris around it still.

    From its distant 120 AU vantage spot, Fomalhaut is still bright but star-like in appearnce and if there are other Fomalhautese planets they’d surely be dim distant dots whirling around nearer their star like Venus and Mercury in our skies. (Well mostly, I imagine it’d be one of the outermost worlds at least probably?) It’d also have a much brighter stronger zodiacal light – the pillar of dust left by debris inour solar system in its sky because there’s a lot more dust presnet and a brighter syun for Foamalhaut b.

    Oh & its almost certainly doomed and lifeless. This stellar system is a construction zone with a star that will leave the Hydrogen burning main sequence early and has, most probably, little time for any life to evolve beyond plankton or bacteria. Before intelligent life can arise here (visiting is another matter o’course!) Fomalhaut will balloon out and burn up as a red giant then a planetary nebula leaving a white dwarf stellar corpse. Fomalhaut b will not be consumed by this but it will be left cold and dark and sun-less. Its future ain’t so hot.

    But right now, it is the hottest thing in Earthly astronomy even if there are no Fomalhautese to appreciate it! It does have big implications and raises hopes for more such finds too. :-)

    Oh and there are some other implications too.

    Remember how Fomalhaut b is loctaed in a shell of debris, a whole slew of dust and gas and no doubt other bodies?

    Think a second .. Hang on ..

    Thats Fomalhaut’s Edgeworth-Kuiper Disk / Oort Belt equivalent area isn’t it! :-o

    Fomalhaut b the IAU solemnly dictates that you can’t be a planet after all. They’re that silly. :-(

    You haven’t cleared your orbit yet, you naughty, nasty planet you – we’re taking away your planet-hood and labelling you a Jupiter-sized Plutoid after all! :-( :-o :roll

    Sorry but that’s the implication & there’s a clear analogy here. If you accept the IAU’s moronic decree on Pluto then you lose Fomalhaut b … & also for that matter the worlds of HR 8799.

    Naturally, if like me you tell the IAU to take a long walk off a short jetty
    & accept that Pluto (& Eris, Ceres, etc) are also planets dismissing that nonsensical Pluto-bashing third criterion about planets needing “cleared orbits” (whatever that was supposed to mean aside from just “we hate Pluto!”) then you can keep and celebrate Fomalhaut b, HR 8799 b,c & d and others! :-) ;-)

    A planet is what it is – no matter where it is! ;-) 8)

  193. Plutonian Poet

    ____The Finding of Fomalhaut b! ___

    A poem celebrating the discovery of Alpha Pisciscum b by Steven C. Raine (StevoR) 2008-Nov.-17th.

    Look there in “the Eye” & you’ll see
    A dot size of Jupiter, gee!
    There’s a planet within
    A speck causing grins
    Coz that’s the world Fomalhaut b!

    Astronomers searched everywhere
    For year after year after year
    IRAS found disks
    but now we’ve found ground
    Well deep under clouds now yippee!

    Its the planet called Fomalhaut b
    Jove’s mass but past Neptune’s dist see
    But the orbits not clear
    So sob in your beer
    Its gone just like Pluto oh dear!

    But never mind mess around globes
    Or that they turn up in their droves
    A planets a planet y’know
    So Pluto can stay and not go!

    Yes Pluto and Fomalhaut b
    And round HR 8799 three
    We’re finding new worlds
    Enough for all boys and girls
    And we celebrate all with great glee!

  194. Plutonian Poet

    “A poem celebrating the discovery of Alpha Pisciscum b by Steven C. Raine (StevoR) 2008-Nov.-17th.”

    D’oh! I meant Alpha Piscis Austrini of course NOT Alpha Piscium. :-(

    No planets round Alpha Piscium as far as I know but around Fomalhaut well that’swhat we’ve been discussing here!

    NB. Alpha Piscium = Alrescha, 139 ly away a multiple with a visual binary and spectroscopic binary – some obsevers view the brighter of the stars as greenish! ;-)

    (Source : P.210, “Collins Guide to Stars & Planets”, Ridpath & Tirion, Collins, 2007.)

    Aquarius, Piscium, what will Piscis Austrinus (one of the less prominent constellations be confused with next? ;-)

    If only we could edit our posts here. Sigh.

  195. Steven C. Raine

    Playing around with the ‘Celestia’ computer program reveals the following interesting bits of info :

    Our Sun shines at apparent magnitude – 26.75 (yes that’s minus) in Earth’s skies which are, by definition, at a distance of 1 Astronomical Unit or 1 AU.

    Fomalhaut from 1 AU away is shining at – 29.

    Its not until you get out to a distance of three AU that Fomalhaut ‘s apparent magnitude falls off to match our Suns – 26. (That position is equivalent to being in our asteroid Belt beyond Ceres orbit of 2.8 AU but before Jupiter’s 5 AU distance.)

    From Fomalhaut b’s distance of 120 AU, Fomalhaut A – it’s sun – shines at app. mag – 19 whereas from the same distance our Sun glows at only -16.

    Oh and for our Sun to shine at -29 or as bright as Fomalhaut at 1 AU or Earth’s distance well you’d have to be located at a rather close distance of just 0.2 AU away – well inside Mercury’s orbit which is at 0.6 AU.

    ‘Celestia’ also tells me that Fomalhaut rotates very quickly – in just 14 hours versus our Sun taking about 25 days -at its equator anyway. Not sure if that means Fomalhaut would appear visibly flattened or not. Many hotter, more massive stars spin even more quickly (eg. Altair, Regulus , Achernar,) but its still impressive. Well to me anyway! ;-)

  196. Terry Hancock

    About distinguishing “tiny specks” from “noise”…

    I don’t have any inside info on _this_ discovery, but I have done this kind of data reduction before. In general, there are two things which distinguish real objects from noise in images like this:

    1) Real objects have a light distribution (“point spread function” or “PSF”) that is characteristic of the telescope (in HST’s case, very nearly an ideal diffraction pattern, for interferometers it can be quite complex). This light is spread over multiple pixels, but can be “de-convolved” with the known PSF of the instrument.

    Noise, by contrast, comes from several different sources, most of them not related to the PSF of the telescope (e.g. random variations in the circuitry reading out the CCD or direct cosmic-ray hits on the detector chip). The most common example is simple detector noise or “electron noise”, which shows up as a quasi-random variation in pixel levels — and it’s different for each pixel, with no real large-scale pattern.

    2) On a processed PR image like this, it’s not so easy to see, but the brightness level of the real object has to be a few “sigma” (standard deviations) above the random variation in the background signal (which is another way of saying “the noise”). So, even if it doesn’t look all that impressive to your eye, when you analyze the data, you can say “a 3-sigma detection” or “a 5-sigma detection”, meaning that’s how far it is above the noise level. Obviously we like to have several sigma before we call it a detection (“3-sigma” isn’t usually considered enough).

    Of course, with complex coronagraphic image like this, there’s tons of artifacts, and sorting the real data out from the noise is precisely what the job of data reduction is all about. So the real arguments for the “realness” of this blip may be even more complex than what I’ve listed above (for example, it needs to be compared to the “ray” pattern evident in this image — I’ve got to say, I don’t know how you get that pattern, I suppose it’s an interference pattern of some kind, but I don’t understand it).

    As for the claim to being “first” when previous images were used to verify the orbit track, that’s a tricky philosophical question. Did you “discover” something when your instrument took the image, or when you processed it on the computer to prove you found something? The older images were probably re-processed after this one was taken, in order to verify the image. I’ve encountered this question before when reporting results based on year-old digital data!

    Also, relating to my comment about detection levels — a 3-sigma blip may not be enough to say you’ve discovered something, but it may well be enough to tell you exactly where something is, when you already know for certain that it is there (i.e. you need more signal-to-noise for a “discovery” than you do for a “confirmation”).

  197. All of you who see the Starship Enterprise in the shape of the black areas are COMPLETE nerds.

    Any normal person who looks at the black areas will tell you they’re Cylon base ships.

  198. Click my name here for stellar expert James Kaler’s updated Fomalhaut page noting the newlyimaged Jovian planet at a trans-Neptunean distance. Excellent website & the planet project section there is great for more onexoplanets too.

  199. zeevtt

    no, the next big thing is the first astronaut to melt ice on mars and drink it.
    that, or discovering dark matter.

    as far as remote exploration goes, the next thing is intelligent robots. but im bettei ng we put a man on mars before robots become smart enough to actually accomplish very much on unaided on their own here on planet eart, let alone on mars.

    predator drones. , theyre just that drones. and most of them are controlled most of the time from a station in nevada. to mars!!! to the glaciers! shwartezenger should be captain of this mission. obama should put him in charge. itll be like the movie total recall all over again.

    zeev

  200. lou lewis

    in all seriousness, if the are already 300 known exoplanets, why the excitement about this latest finding? Are the other 299 exoplanets theoretical, not visual?

  201. sweet lets pack are bags and move to the other planets

  202. we be like immigrants to the other planet

  203. jack

    can you help, over the last month or so i have seen a bright object near to the north star, its very bright and mutch clearer than the north star can anyone explain what it is.

  204. Paul

    Imagine at some time in the future, we actually manage to land on a planet outside of our solar system, one that we found in these times!
    What kind of society should we create?
    It is strange that everything we have on THIS planet is FREE, the materials that make the houses we build, the food we eat, the gems we decorate ourselves with, the clothes we wear. Everything.
    Except that is, until man puts a cost on it. The only thing that costs is the effort that we put into bringing a raw substance to the finished product and greed!
    We should all work for the good of mankind, for our futures, for our children to be born into a world without poverty, financial inequality, greed and corruption. After all, what do we HOPE for when we look to the stars.
    IMPOSSIBLE! you say?
    I think maybe the future inhabitants of such a planet would look back at you with disdain and pity. Or maybe corruption stretches farther than we can imagine.
    I digress. Phenomenal, astounding, incredible piece of history!!!!!!
    One small step, three tiny dots. How our lives may change?
    Anyone heard of DNA? :-)

  205. Wormholes – Gravitational Lensing – Amplified Magnetic Propulsion- We As a Civilization will
    develop a starship someday if we do not blow ourselves up over our petty differences.

    There are millions Perhaps Billions of inhabited worlds in the universe we are one.

  206. Late Chick

    Code asked : (on Nov lucky 13th, 2008 at 2:54 pm)

    “This is all well and good but when will we be able to see hot women on these exoplanets?!?”

    When the hot women head out there to visit that’s when mate! ;-)

  207. Asimov fan

    * NOTE TO THE MODERATORS * – Since the first version of this post / reply is “awaiting moderation” any chance you could just skip that first version and include this corrected one instead please? Oh, with this top header deleted too if that’s possible. I’ve just corrected a couple of typos. That’d be very much appreciated! – Asimov fan.
    ______________________________________________________

    Brewster Said : (November 13th, 2008 at 2:40 pm)

    “I certainly recall that Ursula Le Guin predicted a Fomalhaut II planet – I wonder if the astronomers who have read “Rocannon’s World” will call it Rokanan?”

    Nice suggestion. :-)

    Another couple of ideas – Fomalhaut (perhaps the most frequently mispelt star name ever!) also went by the old Arabic title ‘Al Difidi al Awwal’ or the “first frog” by Arab astronomers before it got its current proper name Fomalhaut from the Arabic ‘Fum al hut’ meaning Fishes mouth.

    Fomalhaut was associated with Dagon – usually described as a sea-god or possibly a grain god according one Asimov essay* – of the Canaanites, Syrians and Philistines whose temple was based at Gaza.

    For the Biblically minded that was the temple destroyed by Sampson (Book of Judges, Chapter 16) when he was “eyeless in Gaza” to allude to an old poem …

    Anyhow, trivia aside might I suggest the alternative names for the planet of Dagon after the Fomalhaut linked ancient god and at least part of the old ‘Difidi al Awwal’ -this may work best if two planets are found – one getting named ‘Difidi’ and the other ‘Awwal.’

    Or perhaps given the froggy theme – we could call it ‘Kermit’? ;-)

    —–

    * Noted on page 1485 ‘Burnham’s Celestial Handbook – Volume III : Pavo through Vulpecula’, Robert Burnham Jr, Dover Publications, 1978 :

    “Incidentally, the identification of Dagon as a sea god or fish-god has been questioned by Isaac Asimov; he suggests that the name does not derive from the Semitic ‘dag’ (fish) but from ‘dagan’ or “grain.” If so, Dagon may have been an agricultural diety rather than a sea god.”

    - Brackets and italics original.

    Alas, the chances of doing further archaeology to investigate this in Gaza which currently under merciless Israeli bombardment seem highly remote. :-(

  208. Tyler

    if evolution is so powerful, why did the human brain end up so flaued

  209. Raymond

    This is great lol i mean yea it’s old news now but still great and i hope u discover more planets using this methiod i bet by the time im out of high school u’ll do reat

  210. rachel

    that is cool i think i will set my careere into finding exoplanets thank you discover

  211. how come they can get a good picture of a diffrent galaxy but they can’t get a decent picture of a planet in a diffrent solar system.

  212. Michael

    All these planetary distances are quoted in billions of km/miles, or is should it be millions of km/miles?
    e.g. The planet is ~0.1 AU from Fomalhaut, and not > 100 AU?
    Both are plausible, but most exoplanets so far are discovered in tight orbits, not twice the distance of our Kuiper Belt and then some.

  213. me

    i am stoked! i can’t wait to find other life out there…this is just the beginning!

  214. Rotary

    Look at http://www.sunorbit.net how it started all now only 15 years back….

  215. Thomas Oliphant

    Holy Exoplanet, Batman!!!

  216. Meep Zorp

    Excellent! I will leave tomorrow to go and investigate it. Not! I am sure I will get there eventually if my ship holds up. I hope they like my dust since earth physics says I wouldn’t make the trip in time. BOL, Barf out Loud (I think I said it right but for some reason I forget) All in the name of Science though. I hope they take credit cards. Just kidding. I know they don’t. Any Plesian Mandorf knows THAT! BOL!!!

    Get real. Who cares? Everyone knows that the people in that quadrant are a bunch of nimrods like on this planet and this sector. Sheesh. I would never go back there again even though the Farpasian women are pretty hot. Ask for the tentacle rub if you ever do decide to go and check out the Farpasian Love Squids. Wow! It’s great! You haven’t lived until you’ve had some personal tentacle if you know what I mean. BOL.

    Not sure if I like this “barfing out loud” thing on this planet. Makes a big mess but I am trying to learn the customs here.

    Meep

  217. mememememe

    well they did have pics of this before but they did NOT know this was a planet. they figured this out when they actally SAW it. its so tiny! . ;)

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