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LongTomH Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-30-10 03:13 PM
Original message
Direct Image of a Planet Orbiting Another Star
Edited on Wed Jun-30-10 03:13 PM by LongTomH
Taken from a post on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy site. The star is listed as 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (Phil calls it 1RXS 1609 for 'short.'); it's a sun-like star about 500 light years from our solar system. The planet is about 8 times the mass of Jupiter and relatively young. Since it's still cooling down from its formation, it is hot enough to be imaged in near-infrared.

The object was actually first imaged by the 8-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, in 2008. At the time, astronomers were not certain if it was an orbiting planet or another star or galaxy. More recent images confirm that it's a planet. See the discussion on Bad Astronomy, complete with diagrams.

Some news stories are incorrectly calling this: "The first direct image of a planet orbiting an alien star." Actually, it's just the first such planet imaged from a ground-based telescope.

First, its not the first exoplanet even seen directly. That distinction belongs to the planet 2M1207b, which orbits a brown dwarf about 230 light years away. Brown dwarfs are smaller and cooler than the Sun, and are not fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores, so some people dont consider them to be real stars. So while the object seen is a planet, its not orbiting a sun-like star.

OK, but a planet already has been directly imaged orbiting the star Fomalhaut. That star is hotter and more massive than the Sun, but is far more sun-like than a brown dwarf. The first image of the planet Fomalhaut b was taken in 2004 using Hubble Space Telescope, and the second confirming image in 2006. It took two more years to make sure everything was correct, and the news announced in 2008. So while this was announced after the image of 1RXS 1609b was first taken in 2008, the first image of Fomalhaut b was taken in 2004, four years earlier.

So, at the most recent count, we now have 3 (count 'em!) planets around other stars that have been imaged directly, not just inferred by the motion of the star or the dimming of the star as the planet passed in front of it. It's an amazing time we live in, even with all the horrible news about the economy and the ecological disaster in the gulf.

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OneTenthofOnePercent Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-30-10 03:50 PM
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1. per the picture scale... that planet is only about 1/16" in diameter.
Kinda puny, don't you think?
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Geoff R. Casavant Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-30-10 04:00 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. It's bigger than Stonehenge
and thus less likely to be trampled by dwarves.
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pokerfan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-01-10 10:02 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. In ancient times...
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people... the Druids
No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock... of Stonehenge!
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Occulus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-03-10 11:38 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. Wow, didn't you know?
Edited on Sat Jul-03-10 11:38 PM by Occulus
Stonehenge is a transmitter. The Pandorica is underneath, in the Underhenge. It was built to contain the most feared being in the cosmos, a warrior soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies, a being that would one day drop in out of the sky and tear down your world.

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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-30-10 11:26 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. LOL, that's one arc-second, not one inch!
Or 1/3600th of a degree of the sky.
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