September 15, 2008

Young Exoplanet says "Cheese!"

Young ExoplanetIn what may be the first ever picture of an Exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star, the image shown is of a young star named J160929.1-210524 and its potential planet. This extrasolar system lies 500 light-years from Earth and the exoplanet has been measured to have a mass 8 times that of Jupiter.
Until now, the only planet-like bodies that have been directly imaged outside of the solar system are either free-floating in space, or orbit brown dwarfs, which are dim and make it easier to detect planetary companions.
The Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii was used to take the images utilizing adaptive optics technology to dramatically reduce distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. The near-infrared images and spectra of the suspected exoplanet indicate that it is too cool to be a star or even a more massive brown dwarf, and that it is young. Taken together, such findings confirm that it is a very young, very low-mass object at roughly the same distance from Earth as the star.
Although it will take up to two years to verify the validity of this photograph the method used by the team is quite ingenious by "..targetting young stars so that any planetary mass object they hosted would not have had time to cool, and thus would still be relatively bright. This is one reason we were able to see it at all.”