Tuesday, Sept 16, 2008
Astronomers have taken what may the first picture of a planet orbiting a star similar to the sun.
This distant world is giant (about eight times the mass of Jupiter) and lies far out from its star (about 330 times the Earth-Sun distance). But for all the planet’s strangeness, its star is quite like our own sun.
Previously, the only photographed extrasolar planets have belonged to tiny, dim stars known as brown dwarfs. And while hundreds of exoplanets have been detected by noting their gravitational tug on their parent stars, it is rare to find one large enough to image directly.
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“This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our sun,” said David Lafreni?re, an astronomer at the University of Toronto who led the team that discovered the star. “If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward.”
Further study will be needed to prove that the planet is in fact orbiting around the star, as opposed to the possibility, however unlikely, that the two objects just happen to lie in the same area of the sky at roughly the same distance from us.