News from the world of maths: Say cheese! First ever images of exoplanets.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Say cheese! First ever images of exoplanets.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting 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, or the "Southern Fish." An immense debris disc about 21.5 billion miles across surrounds the star. Fomalhaut b is orbiting 1.8 billion miles inside the disc's sharp inner edge, and is 1 billion times fainter than the star.

In a separate development, Canadian scientists have used ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to take infrared images of three giant planets they believe are orbiting a star about 130 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation.

These are not the first examples of exoplanets — planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system — but Formalhaut b is the first that can actually be observed in visible light wavelengths. All others have been detected indirectly, for example through the wobble their gravitational pull induces on their star.

To find out more about the new discovery, and see more images and videos, visit the Hubble Site. There is more information on exoplanets in general on physicsworld.com and in the Plus article Brave young worlds.

posted by Plus @ 11:25 AM

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