Until now, astronomers have never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a Sun-like star.
Astronomers have succeeded in obtaining the first direct image of distant extraterrestrial worlds orbiting a star similar to our Sun.
Located about 300 light-years away, there is a young version of our Sun which, like it, has multiple planets orbiting it.
In case that wasn’t interesting enough on its own, astronomers have now managed to get the first direct image of this distant solar system.
All of this was made possible by Chile’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Astronomers have used the European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescope to take the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun, known as TYC 8998-760-1. This discovery is of great importance for astronomy, as it allows scientists to examine how a young star system – similar to ours – evolved in its early stages.
“This discovery is a snapshot of an environment very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage in its evolution,” explains Alexander Bohn, a doctoral student at the University of Leiden (Netherlands), who led the new research published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
This cosmic photograph is a great achievement because, although astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of exoplanets in our galaxy, only a small fraction of these distant worlds have been imaged directly.
According to astronomers, these direct observations are of great importance for the search for distant environments that may be suitable for life as we know it.
Even rarer is the direct image of two or more exoplanets around the same star, scientists say. So far, only two such systems have been directly observed, both around stars very different from our Sun.
The new image from ESO’s VLT is the first direct image of more than one exoplanet around a Sun-like star, making this image an even greater feat for astronomy.
“Our team was able to capture the first image of two gas giant companions orbiting a young analogue of the Sun,” explained Maddalena Reggiani, postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) who also participated in the study.
The two planets are visible in the new image as two bright spots far from their parent star, located at the top left of the image.
The team distinguished these planets from background stars by taking different images at different times.
Exoplanets are two gas giants that orbit their host star at distances ranging from 160 to 320 times the Earth-Sun distance.
These exoplanets are therefore much further from their star than Jupiter or Saturn are from our Sun, which are respectively only 5 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance.
The team also found that both exoplanets are much heavier than those in our solar system. The inner planet has a mass 14 times that of Jupiter and the outer planet six times that.
The images were made possible thanks to the SPHERE instrument .
SPHERE blocks the star’s bright light using a device called a coronagraph, allowing it to observe the planets, whose light is much dimmer.
While older planets, like those in our solar system, are too cold to detect with this technique, younger planets are hotter and therefore shine brighter in the infrared light range, the scientists found.
For astronomers to confirm whether these planets formed in their current location, far from the star, or whether they migrated from other locations, further observations of this system will be needed. Such observations can be made with the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).
ESO’s ELT will also study the interaction between two young planets in the same system.
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