Astronomers have managed to obtain the first direct image of distant alien worlds orbiting a star similar to our Sun.
Located around 300 light-years away, there is a young version of our Sun that, like our Sun, has multiple planets orbiting it.
And in case that wasn’t interesting enough by itself, astronomers have now succeeded in obtaining the first direct image of the distant solar system.
This was all made possible thanks to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Astronomers used the telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in order to snap the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun, known as TYC 8998-760-1. The discovery is of great importance to astronomy since it allows scientists to look at how a young star system–similar to ours–evolved in its early stages.
“This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage in its evolution,” says Alexander Bohn, a doctoral student at Leiden University, the Netherlands, who led the New research published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The recent image is a great achievement.
This is because although astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of exoplanets in our galaxy, only a small fraction of these distant worlds have been imaged directly.
The astronomers say that such direct observations are of great importance in the search for distant environments that can be suitable for life as we know it.
Scientists say that the direct image of two or more exoplanets around the same star is even rarer; So far, only two of these systems have been directly observed, both around stars very different from our Sun.
ESO’s new VLT image is the first direct image of more than one exoplanet around a Sun-like star, which makes the image an even greater achievement for astronomy.
“Our team has been able to capture the first image of two fellow gas giants orbiting a young solar analog,” explained Maddalena Reggiani, a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven (Belgium) who has also participated in the study.
The two planets can be seen in the new image as two bright spots of light away from their parent star, which is located in the upper left of the image.
By taking different images at different times, the team was able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.
The exoplanets are two gas giants that orbit their host star at distances of 160 and about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance.
This places these exoplanets much farther from their star than Jupiter or Saturn are from our Sun; Jupiter and Saturn are only 5 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance, respectively.
The team also found that the two exoplanets are much heavier than those in our Solar System, the inner planet is 14 times the mass of Jupiter and the outer planet six times.
The images were made possible, thanks to the SPHERE instrument.
SPHERE blocks the bright light from the star using a device called a coronagraph, allowing it to observe planets, the light of which is much weaker.
While older planets, like those in our Solar System, are too cold to be detected with this technique, young planets are hotter and therefore shine more in the infrared range of light, the scientists have revealed.
In order for astronomers to confirm whether these planets formed at their current location, away from the star, or migrated from other locations, further observations of this system will be necessary. Such observations can be carried out with the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).
ESO’s ELT will also help study the interaction between two young planets in the same system.