This innovative project condenses 17 years of motion into a mere 1o seconds, offering a unique glimpse into the universe's celestial dance.
In a breathtaking feat of astrophysics, a Northwestern University scientist has created an unprecedented time-lapse video of Beta Pictoris b, a massive exoplanet orbiting its star. This innovative project condenses 17 years of motion into a mere 1o seconds, offering a unique glimpse into the universe’s celestial dance.
Time-Lapse: An Exoplanet 17-Year-Orbit in 10 Seconds
Astrophysicist Jason Wang, an expert in exoplanet imaging and assistant professor at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, has crafted the longest time-lapse video of an exoplanet to date. The footage showcases Beta Pictoris b — a colossal planet 12 times Jupiter’s mass — making about 75% of one full orbit in its tilted path around its star.
“We’re almost there. Patience is key,” Wang emphasized, noting that six more years of data will reveal a complete orbit.
About Beta Pictoris b
Located 63 light-years away in the constellation Pictor, Beta Pictoris b is an enormous and extremely bright exoplanet. It orbits a star that’s 1.75 times as massive and 8.7 times more luminous than our Sun, at a distance 10 times that between Earth and the Sun. A relatively young entity, Beta Pictoris is only 20 to 26 million years old.
The planet’s size and brightness made it one of the first exoplanets to be discovered and directly imaged. “It’s so big that it’s at the boundary of a planet and a brown dwarf,” Wang explained.
The Making of the Time-Lapse Video
Wang’s pursuit of tracking Beta Pictoris b began years ago, constructing his first time-lapse to show five years of the exoplanet’s journey. To create the updated 17-year version, Wang collaborated with Malachi Noel, a high school student from Winnetka, Illinois.
The duo used AI-driven image processing techniques to analyze archival data from Gemini Observatory and the European Southern Observatory uniformly. An algorithmic technique called motion interpolation filled in the gaps, providing a smooth, continuous video.
Adaptive optics were also used to correct image blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere and suppress the system’s central star glare, which otherwise would outshine the exoplanet. Wang marked the briefly unobservable exoplanet with an “x” to maintain viewers’ tracking.
Inspiring a New Appreciation for the Universe
Wang’s time-lapse videos offer more than just an aesthetic experience; they provide extraordinary insight into planetary motion and physics. It’s a tangible connection to the universe that transcends abstract ideas or mathematical equations.
“I really enjoyed working with the data. While it is too early to know for sure, astrophysics is definitely a career path I am seriously considering,” Noel expressed, reflecting on his involvement in the project.
Wang also expressed his hope that the visual portrayal would foster an appreciation for the intricacies of the universe.
This innovative time-lapse video of Beta Pictoris b marks a milestone in astronomical exploration. By turning years of real data into a visual marvel, Wang and his team provide a rare view of an exoplanet’s journey. The project not only contributes to scientific understanding but also inspires awe and wonder about the universe’s hidden beauty.
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