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Emily LakdawallaNovember 13, 2008

Actual images of planets around other stars

If you read any space blog other than mine you'll know already that today not one but three major observatories announced that they had successfully taken images of planets in orbit around other stars. One announcement came from Hubble, which has taken a photo of a three-Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the bright southern star Fomalhaut, which is 25 light years from Earth. The other announcement was the combined effort of astronomers at the Gemini North and Keck II telescopes on Mauna Kea: working together, they imaged three planets of ten, ten, and seven Jupiter masses in orbit around a young, massive star called HR 8799. This one is 130 light years from Earth. We've known for about ten years that there are such things as exoplanets using various tricky methods to detect their effects on the light of their host stars, but the planets themselves have never been imaged before; doing so has been likened to photographing a firefly next to a searchlight.

These are landmark announcements. I'd write much more, but fortunately for me (since I've got lots of other projects going) Amir Alexander is on the beat and will have an in-depth story posted to the home page late this afternoon or tomorrow. I'll update this post with a link when his story is done. And here is Amir's story, "Scientists Lay Eyes on Distant Planets.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
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