Seeing extrasolar planets?!?!

I would be remiss if I didn’t post this fantabulous awesome picture that just might be the first picture of an extrasolar planet around a star.


The little one is the planet around the K7 star in the middle.

I haven’t taken time to read the paper yet, but there’s more good info at Bad Astronomy and Universe Today. As expected, it was taken in the infrared, where stars are slightly dimmer and planets brighter than in the visible. We knew that this was coming, it’s been a hot topic for a while, but I thought we were a few years off. If confirmed (that part is very important), it would be very far out from its star, 11 times the distance of Neptune, and weigh 8 times the mass of Jupiter. Astronomers determined that it is an extrasolar planet candidate from its spectrum, but time will tell if it is actually gravitationally bound.

Very cool!!!

4 comments for “Seeing extrasolar planets?!?!

  1. Becky WS
    September 16, 2008 at 12:21

    Hi, I’m a PhD student in the UK, and it’s great to find a good astronomy blog that I can use for my own procrastination!
    My research is on Neanderthal archaeology, but I love astronomy, and it’s brilliant to see a blog on this written by a fellow female postgrad. What’s your thesis going to be on?

    Specific to the post: I’m just wondering what the likelihood of looking at very small objects like this is with inferometry? Would it be possible to see features on a planet if it was quite close to us?

    best wishes for your own procrastination…

  2. Nicole
    September 17, 2008 at 12:48

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed. I think we’re the reverse of each other, since I find hominid evolution totally fascinating, although it’s far from my subject of study. I have the Museum of Natural History in NYC to thank for that. My thesis is on radio astronomy instrumentation. We’re building a telescope that will detect hydrogen from the early universe, and I want to explore the imaging properties of this telescope and the effects on it from the atmosphere.

    Well, radio interferometry can reach resolutions of milliarcseconds, even microarcseconds. (A milliarcsecond is 0.0000003 degrees! If you hold out your index finger at arms length and look at the sky, the width of your finger is a degree). But planets are better imaged in the infrared. Interferometry in the IR and optical is in its infancy, so I don’t know what their best resolution is. Also, they need really, really bright objects, and these planets are not bright. So I suspect that with a big, good telescope on the ground, you might get resolution at an arcsecond or better? (1 arcsec = 1/3600 degrees.) So let’s say that you want to just barely resolve the disk of Jupiter, it can’t be more than one-thousandth of a light year away. The nearest star is about 3 light years away. So we would need a serious upgrade in our technology before we could actually see features on planets. After all, we have no good pictures of the surface of our furthest ex-planet, Pluto. We can, however, determine what the planets are made of by their spectra!

    Good procrastination to you, too :-)

    (P.S. I apologize in advance for any errors in my quick calculations or lack of knowledge of the state of affairs in IR astronomy!)

  3. becky ws
    September 19, 2008 at 10:28

    You’d be surprised how many archaeologists have a secret astro-geek inside them :)
    I wish I had been more inspired to work at the maths at school, as I would have loved to do research in astronomy.

    But I’m sure you’d tell me, like I would tell you, that the reality of our individual research fields involves brief moments of excitement and discovery and much longer stretches of boring data-crunching!

    Just some ignorant questions: your thesis will be looking at hydrogen from when in the early universe? And are you personally involved in putting hardware for the scope together? Sounds fun.

    I was only wondering with the inferometry question as it seems that such vastly far away but small things can be imaged, but I suppose yes they are all way brighter than planets.

  4. Nicole
    September 19, 2008 at 10:39

    Hahaha, yes the data-crunching is enormous.

    I am involved in putting the hardware together, although I haven’t designed it. The brilliant engineers that I work with do most of that!

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