First Optical Image Of Planet Orbiting Sun-Like Star

A new picture from the Hubble space telescope shows the first optical image of a normal planet orbiting a Sun-like star. The planet is the little dot of light in the upper right part of the picture.


(Hubble shows first optical image of planet orbiting another star)

The planet is probably a Jupiter-sized gas giant orbiting Fomalhaut, a star about 25 light years away. It orbits Fomalhaut at a distance of about 18 billion kilometers and takes 872 years to complete an orbit.

The Hubble camera uses an occulting bar, a small piece of metal that blocks the brightest part of the starís image. The blacked-out area in the center of the picture is where Fomalhaut is (also, the starís 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; itís 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 planetís 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.

This picture is a great confirmation of an idea that science fiction authors have relied upon for generations; there are other stars with planetary systems, and some of them harbor intelligent life.

Via Discover Blog.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/14/2008)

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