The First Photo of an Exoplanet

Posted by Michael Pinto on Nov 14, 2008 in Science |

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. The images show the planet, named Fomalhaut b, as a tiny point source of light orbiting the nearby, bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis. An immense debris disk about 21.5 billion miles across surrounds the star. Fomalhaut b is orbiting 1.8 billion miles inside the disk's sharp inner edge.

While the photo above looks pretty, it’s no ordinary snapshot — in fact within the red dust is the very first photo of a planet that’s outside of our solar system.

Hubble Directly Observes Planet Orbiting Fomalhaut

“NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet circling another star. Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter’s mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis (the Southern Fish).

Fomalhaut has been a candidate for planet hunting ever since an excess of dust was discovered around the star in the early 1980s by NASA’s Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS). In 2004, the coronagraph in the High Resolution Camera on Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys produced the first-ever resolved visible-light image of a large dust belt surrounding Fomalhaut. It clearly showed that this structure is in fact a ring of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across with a sharp inner edge.

This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto. Hubble astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, and team members proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified by a planet lying between the star and the ring’s inner edge.”

Here’s a version of the photo which clearly shows you where the planet is:

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. The images show the planet, named Fomalhaut b, as a tiny point source of light orbiting the nearby, bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis. An immense debris disk about 21.5 billion miles across surrounds the star. Fomalhaut b is orbiting 1.8 billion miles inside the disk's sharp inner edge.

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