- Researchers at the European Southern Observatory have captured the first images of a planetary system with multiple exoplanets.
- The system revolves around a star that is very small like our sun.
- Observing these foreign systems will teach scientists how our own systems are formed and developed over time.
The technique of detecting exoplanets – planets that live outside our own solar system – has improved leaps and bounds in recent years. New exoplanet searches come at a breakneck pace, and we learn about a new planet (or many) each week. However, actually capturing images of those planets is still a major challenge.
Now, researchers using the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory have captured the first image of a multi-planetary system, which revolves around a star like our own Sun. This is a major achievement and can help teach us more about how our own form and system of planets evolve over time.
The system is called TYC 8998-760-1 and is located approximately 300 light-years from Earth. It is a relatively short distance, all things considered, and it is close enough that astronomers were able to capture images of not only the star at its center, but a pair of massive exoplanets that orbit it. are doing.
“Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a small fraction of these exoplanets are fake,” research co-author Matthew Kenworthy said in a statement. “Direct observations are important in exploring environments that can support life.”
The star at the heart of the system is like a young version of our own Sun, but the planets orbiting it are far from Earth. The planets are the gas giants for Jupiter, which appears to glow in the image while the star sits in the top left corner of the image. But while the planets may be geus like Jupiter, they are orbiting at very extreme distances.
A press release announcing the discovery states:
Two gas giants orbit their host stars at a distance of 160 and about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance. This places these planets far away from their stars than Jupiter or Saturn, two gas giants, also from the Sun; They lie only five and 10 times the distance of Earth-Sun respectively. The team also found that two exoplanets are much heavier than those in our solar system, 14 times the mass of the inner planet Jupiter and six times the outer one.
It is important to capture images of other planetary systems if we want to understand ourselves better. With only the data point – our own solar system – there is only so much we can know about it. The observation of other systems, especially in an immature state, gives us a glimpse of how these collections of planets appear and change over time.