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EXCLUSIVE: First Confirmed Picture of a Planet Beyond the Solar System
Space.com ^ | April 1, 2005 | Robert Roy Britt

Posted on 04/01/2005 11:35:44 AM PST by conservativecorner

After a few close calls, astronomers have finally obtained the first photograph of a planet beyond our solar system, SPACE.com has learned.

And this time they're sure.

The planet is thought to be one to two times as massive as Jupiter. It orbits a star similar to a young version of our Sun.

The star, GQ Lupi, has been observed by a team of European astronomers since 1999. They have made three images using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Japanese Subaru Telescope each contributed an image, too.

The work was led by Ralph Neuhaeuser of the Astrophysical Institute & University Observatory (AIU).

"The detection of the faint object near the bright star is certain," Neuhaeuser told SPACE.com on Friday.

The system is young, so the planet is rather warm, like a bun fresh out of the oven. That warmth made it comparatively easier to see in the glare of its host star compared with more mature planets. Also, the planet is very far from the star -- about 100 times the distance between Earth and the Sun, another factor in helping to separate the light between the two objects.

The discovery will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. Neuhaeuser's co-authors include Ph.D. student Markus Mugrauer, who performed the observations, and Guenther Wuchterl.

"This is the first directly imaged and confirmed companion to a Sun-like star, and as such marks the dawn of a new era in planet detection," said Ray Jayawardhana, a University of Toronto researcher who was not involved in the discovery but has seen the scientific paper.

Other recent milestones

Over the past decade, astronomers have found about 150 extrasolar planets. The vast majority have only been detected indirectly, by noting wobbles that the planets induce in their stars.

Earlier this month, astronomers announced the detection of a planet's infrared light using the Spitzer Space Telescope. But that observation did not involve a photograph. Instead, the system's total light was seen to drop when the planet was eclipsed by the star.

Late last year, another European team announced what might have been the first photograph of an extrasolar planet. That planet candidate has yet to be confirmed, however, because it's not yet clear whether it is orbiting the star or if it might be an object in the distant background. And even if it is a planet, it is an unusually large one -- several times the mass of Jupiter -- and it orbits a failed star known as a brown dwarf.

The object around GQ Lupi is clearly linked to the star gravitationally.

"The separation between star and planet has not changed from 1999 to 2004, which means that they move together on the sky," Neuhaeuser said. "In our case, we do have a normal plain image showing the bright star and the faint planet a little bit west of the star. The planet is only 156 times fainter than the star, because the planet is still very young and hence still forming, still contracting."

This object "appears to pass" the observational tests "for being a planetary mass companion to its parent star," Jayawardhana said.

Familiar yet different

The picture of GQ Lupi and its planet is exciting to astronomers because the system resembles in some respects our own solar system in its formation years.

The planet is about 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (2000 Kelvin) -- not the sort of place that would be expected to support life. Neuhaeuser's team has also detected water in the planet's atmosphere. The world is expected to be gaseous, like Jupiter. It is about twice the diameter of Jupiter. The mass estimate -- one to two times that of Jupiter -- is "somewhat uncertain," Neuhaeuser said.

The planet is three times farther from GQ Lupi than Neptune is from our Sun. "We should expect that the planet orbits around the star, but at its large separation one orbital period [a year] is roughly 1,200 years, so that orbital motion is not yet detected."

It's not known why it is so far out.

"It is unlikely, but not impossible, that the planet formed at that large separation, because circumstellar disks around other stars often are that large or even larger," Neuhaeuser said.

Or perhaps the planet had a close brush with another developing world. The interaction could have thrown the newly discovered planet outward while tossing the other one, which has not been detected, in toward the star. It's also possible the newfound planet has a highly elliptical orbit and is currently near its outer bounds.

The star GQ Lupi is part of a star-forming region about 400 light-years away. At 70 percent the mass of the Sun, it is "quite similar to our Sun," Neuhaeuser said. But GQ Lupi is only about 1 million years old. The Sun is middle-aged, at 4.6 billion years old.

Nagging doubt

"What's most exciting about this discovery is that it raises a plethora of new questions regarding the origin of a planet so far out from its parent star," Jayawardhana, who is an expert on the disks around young stars from which planets form, said in a email interview.

Jayawardhana wonders whether it formed in a protoplanetary disk much closer in, roughly where Jupiter is in our solar system, and then get flung out. Or if it was born almost at the same time as its star, fragmenting out of a contracting protostellar cloud.

"One way or another, this object must have formed pretty quickly" given the star's age, he said.

Knots of gas and dust have been detected around other young stars in setups that astronomers believe are solar systems in the making. Theorists believe our solar system formed when the Sun's leftovers developed into a thin disk of orbiting material. Rocky planets like Earth formed when chunks stuck together. Astronomers do not agree, however, how gas giants are born.

Alan Boss, a planet formation theorist at Carnegie Institution of Washington, called the image "really exciting." But he said there is "one little nagging doubt" in that the object's mass is only an estimate.

Weighing it precisely would involve noting the gravitational wobble the apparent planet induces on the star, but this object is too far from the star to produce a meaningful wobble. Yet even if the object is four times the mass of Jupiter it would still be considered a planet, Boss said in a telephone interview.

"I think there's a really good chance that this is an historic photo," Boss said.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: epsiloneridanib; xplanets
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Pretty amazing stuff!
1 posted on 04/01/2005 11:35:46 AM PST by conservativecorner
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To: conservativecorner

Wow I wonder if there are any rocky planets orbiting closer in.


2 posted on 04/01/2005 11:37:15 AM PST by CzarNicky (The problem with bad ideas is that they seemed like good ideas at the time.)
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To: conservativecorner

How close is it to Uranus? *snicker, snicker*


3 posted on 04/01/2005 11:37:15 AM PST by TheBigB ("She's the kind of girl you bring home to Mother... if Mother is a cigaretty, retired hooker.")
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To: conservativecorner

http://setiathome2.ssl.berkeley.edu/stats/team/team_15327.html

At this point I'd like to brag I'm #41 on the FReeper SETI list.


4 posted on 04/01/2005 11:37:19 AM PST by Drango (Well, what are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?)
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To: conservativecorner
No offense, but it looks like a Troll being Zotted.

Man I've been playing with Trolls too much.

5 posted on 04/01/2005 11:37:41 AM PST by Jersey Republican Biker Chick (People too weak to follow their own dreams, will always find a way to discourage yours.)
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To: conservativecorner

Someday all our science fiction stories are going to look so quaint and humble.


6 posted on 04/01/2005 11:40:30 AM PST by samtheman
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To: TheBigB

Is that the planet with hair around it?


7 posted on 04/01/2005 11:40:39 AM PST by Conspiracy Guy (What do you call being denied food and water until you're dead?)
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To: Jersey Republican Biker Chick

LOL


8 posted on 04/01/2005 11:41:00 AM PST by Conspiracy Guy (What do you call being denied food and water until you're dead?)
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To: conservativecorner

Is it just light defraction,because of the distance, or does it look like that planet is in the sun's corona?


9 posted on 04/01/2005 11:41:27 AM PST by Bigh4u2
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To: Conspiracy Guy

I know it's close to a black hole..


10 posted on 04/01/2005 11:41:31 AM PST by TheBigB ("She's the kind of girl you bring home to Mother... if Mother is a cigaretty, retired hooker.")
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To: conservativecorner
Will Colonel O'Neil please pick up the white courtesy phone?

In all seriousness, this is pretty cool!

Before anyone corrects me, yes, I do know it's General O'Neil

11 posted on 04/01/2005 11:45:42 AM PST by BA63
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To: BA63

Watch too much SG1??

:0)


12 posted on 04/01/2005 11:47:01 AM PST by Bigh4u2
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To: TheBigB

Scary.


13 posted on 04/01/2005 11:47:37 AM PST by Conspiracy Guy (What do you call being denied food and water until you're dead?)
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To: TheBigB
This is Uranus...


14 posted on 04/01/2005 11:47:47 AM PST by Drango (Well, what are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?)
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To: TheBigB

I'm shocked it took 3 posts.


15 posted on 04/01/2005 11:47:58 AM PST by dfwgator (It's sad that the news media treats Michael Jackson better than our military.)
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To: conservativecorner
That’s no planet. It’s a

SPACE STATION!

16 posted on 04/01/2005 11:48:44 AM PST by usurper (Correct spelling is overrated)
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To: marblehead17

cool-o


17 posted on 04/01/2005 11:48:49 AM PST by Darth Reagan
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To: dfwgator

I was slow today. :o)


18 posted on 04/01/2005 11:48:50 AM PST by TheBigB ("She's the kind of girl you bring home to Mother... if Mother is a cigaretty, retired hooker.")
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To: conservativecorner
The system is young, so the planet is rather warm, like a bun fresh out of the oven...

The planet is about 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit..

Mmmmm sounds yummy. Refractory dinner rolls.

19 posted on 04/01/2005 11:49:16 AM PST by Jack of all Trades
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To: Drango; TheBigB

What's with the red ring around Uranus?


20 posted on 04/01/2005 11:49:58 AM PST by Sax
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To: Jersey Republican Biker Chick

I love your tagline!!

That could be said of virtually any liberal.


21 posted on 04/01/2005 11:50:12 AM PST by PeterFinn (The Holocaust was perfectly legal.)
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To: conservativecorner
That one planet there looks alot like the capital letter 'A'
22 posted on 04/01/2005 11:51:28 AM PST by austinite
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To: Sax

He had Mexican food.


23 posted on 04/01/2005 11:51:29 AM PST by TheBigB ("She's the kind of girl you bring home to Mother... if Mother is a cigaretty, retired hooker.")
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To: austinite

Yeah!

Did you notice that 'b' moon near the planet?


24 posted on 04/01/2005 11:52:18 AM PST by Bigh4u2
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To: conservativecorner; All
Cool (Free!) Astronomy-related Software:
Please FReepmail other suggestions
  • Celestia: (GET THIS ONE! -- m_f) A real-time space simulation that lets you experience our universe in three dimensions. Unlike most planetarium software, Celestia doesn't confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy. All travel in Celestia is seamless; the exponential zoom feature lets you explore space across a huge range of scales, from galaxy clusters down to spacecraft only a few meters across. A 'point-and-goto' interface makes it simple to navigate through the universe to the object you want to visit.
  • Sky Screen Saver: Shows the sky above any location on Earth, including stars (from the Yale Bright Star Catalogue of more than 9000 stars to the 7th magnitude), the Moon in its correct phase and position in the sky, and the position of the Sun and all the planets in the sky.
    Outlines, boundaries, and names of constellations can be displayed, as well as names and Bayer/Flamsteed designations of stars brighter than a given threshold. A database of more than 500 deep-sky objects, including all the Messier objects and bright NGC objects can be plotted to a given magnitude. The ecliptic and celestial equator can be plotted, complete with co-ordinates.
  • Home Planet: A comprehensive astronomy / space / satellite-tracking package for Microsoft Windows 95/98/Me and Windows NT 4.0/2000/XP and above. Selected features:
    • An earth map, showing day and night regions, location of the Moon and current phase, and position of a selected earth satellite. Earth maps can be customised and extended.Hposition and phase data for the Sun and Moon.
    • Panel showing positions of planets and a selected asteroid or comet, both geocentric and from the observer's location.
    • A sky map, based on either the Yale Bright Star Catalogue or the 256,000 star SAO catalogue, including rendering of spectral types, planets, earth satellites, asteroids and comets.
    • Databases of the orbital elements of 5632 asteroids and principal periodic comets are included, allowing selection of any for tracking.
    • A telescope window which can be aimed by clicking in the sky map or telescope itself, by entering coordinates, or by selecting an object in the Object Catalogue.
    • A horizon window which shows the view toward the horizon at any given azimuth.
    • Object Catalogue allows archiving images, sounds, and tabular data about celestial objects.
    • Orrery allows viewing the solar system, including a selected asteroid or comet, from any vantage point in space, in a variety of projections.
    • Satellite tracking panel. Select an Earth satellite from a database of two-line elements, and see its current position and altitude.
    • View Earth From panel allows you to view a texture-mapped image of the Earth as seen from the Sun, Moon, a selected Earth satellite, above the observing location, or the antisolar point.
    • Satellite database selection allows maintenance of multiple lists of satellites, for example TV broadcast, ham radio, low orbit, etc.
  • Cartes du Ciel Sky Charts: Enables you to draw sky charts, making use of the data in 16 catalogs of stars and nebulae. In addition the position of planets, asteroids and comets are shown.
  • SETI@Home: A scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

25 posted on 04/01/2005 11:52:20 AM PST by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: PeterFinn
Thank you, I saw it and knew it was the right thing for my new tagline.
26 posted on 04/01/2005 11:52:30 AM PST by Jersey Republican Biker Chick (People too weak to follow their own dreams, will always find a way to discourage yours.)
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To: usurper

That’s no planet. It’s a

DEATH STAR!


27 posted on 04/01/2005 11:53:01 AM PST by scab4faa (http://www.compfused.com/directlink/703/)
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To: conservativecorner

If it's three times further out than Neptune is from our star, why does it look so close? Is it due to the length of time the exposure took (making the star appear much larger than it is?)


28 posted on 04/01/2005 11:54:40 AM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: PatrickHenry

Ping?


29 posted on 04/01/2005 11:54:42 AM PST by atlaw
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To: BA63

TWO L's! (Three fingers)


30 posted on 04/01/2005 11:55:44 AM PST by Frank_Discussion (May the wings of Liberty never lose a feather!)
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To: TheBigB

Close enough to keep the Klingons off of it.


31 posted on 04/01/2005 11:56:11 AM PST by massgopguy (massgopguy)
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To: massgopguy

Damn Klingons...


32 posted on 04/01/2005 11:57:22 AM PST by TheBigB (Need a thread hijacked? Call TheBigB! 24 hours a day...reasonable rates...inquire within...)
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To: conservativecorner

Wow that picture sure is convincing!~}


33 posted on 04/01/2005 11:57:39 AM PST by funkywbr
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To: dead

Probably a narrow angle between the lines of sight of the two bodies, combined with a hot gas planet with a lot of emissivity.


34 posted on 04/01/2005 11:58:16 AM PST by Frank_Discussion (May the wings of Liberty never lose a feather!)
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To: massgopguy

Nah. The Klingons are already on Uranus! PrepH torpedoes ready to fire Kepten!


35 posted on 04/01/2005 12:28:51 PM PST by nuke rocketeer
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To: atlaw
Ping?

I donno. It's just another extra-solar planet. Other than the pic, there's not much new here.

36 posted on 04/01/2005 12:43:23 PM PST by PatrickHenry (<-- Click on my name. The List-O-Links for evolution threads is at my freeper homepage.)
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To: PatrickHenry

: )


37 posted on 04/01/2005 12:47:23 PM PST by atlaw
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To: conservativecorner
I watched a Discovery Channel program that stated there are 11 space dimensions?

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

38 posted on 04/01/2005 12:48:55 PM PST by TexasCajun
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To: TheBigB

"How close is it to Uranus?"

I can't hear anybody say Uranaus any more without laughing. I'm not laughing at the word anymore, I'm laughing at the fact that it has become the punch line of every "space/planet" joke being made. I just can't help it.

I was with some co-workers a few weeks ago and this woman, thinking she's being half cute and half profound, says, "So, if women are from Venus and men are from Mars, where do gay people come from?"

Of course I immediately said "Uranus!" Beer was spewed everywhere.


39 posted on 04/01/2005 12:53:04 PM PST by Lee'sGhost (Crom!)
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To: martin_fierro

Great downloads. Thanks!


40 posted on 04/01/2005 2:16:32 PM PST by mugs99 (Restore the Constitution)
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To: conservativecorner
They have made three images using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile.

I knew these beasties at Paranal were going to be real barnburners when they get hooked up. It's big, it's hairy and will out-do Hubble when it starts cranking out the images. The VLT has a combined light-collecting power equivalent to that of a 16-meter (630-inch) telescope.

41 posted on 04/01/2005 2:30:02 PM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Information is power and power is nothing without control.)
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To: conservativecorner

I think it is a brown dwarf star. I just don't see how they can tell the difference between that and heat from condensation pressure from an object glowing on its own rather than from reflected light.


42 posted on 04/01/2005 2:44:01 PM PST by UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide (Give Them Liberty Or Give Them Death! - Islam Delenda Est! - Rumble thee forth...)
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To: TheBigB

If my math is correct, that planet is further from its sun than pluto is from the sun... and if that's visible, chances are there may be class M planets in that system not visible to our current imaging capabilities.....

Mr. and Mrs. Cochrane need to get busy to have Zephram get born....


43 posted on 04/01/2005 4:23:02 PM PST by Schwaeky (TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE---IMPEACH THE WHOLE JUDICIAL BRANCH)
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To: scab4faa

now we need to see if there's an arid planet w/ N02 atmosphere around Epsilon Eridani (real Trekkies know which planet I'm speaking of, so I'll let them figure it out)...


44 posted on 04/01/2005 4:25:08 PM PST by Schwaeky (TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE---IMPEACH THE WHOLE JUDICIAL BRANCH)
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To: RightWhale; Brett66; xrp; gdc314; sionnsar; anymouse; RadioAstronomer; NonZeroSum; jimkress; ...
I can't wait to find an Earth like planet.


45 posted on 04/01/2005 4:55:55 PM PST by KevinDavis (Let the meek inherit the Earth, the rest of us will explore the stars!)
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To: KevinDavis; conservativecorner
Very cool! :)


46 posted on 04/01/2005 6:01:48 PM PST by MeekOneGOP (There is only one GOOD 'RAT: one that has been voted OUT of POWER !! Straight ticket GOP!)
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To: KevinDavis
I can't wait to find an Earth like planet.

You and me both. :-)

47 posted on 04/01/2005 8:38:50 PM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide
I think it is a brown dwarf star.

Has there been discovered any planet outside of our solar system that is not like Jupiter (i.e., not a failed star or brown dwarf)? I think it's great that they have discovered these objects but to me this discovery is just a binary system where one of the "stars" is too small to burn as a star. It would be really interesting if they found a planet other than a gas giant, but our technology might not currently be able to detect anything smaller than Jupiter.

48 posted on 04/02/2005 12:04:04 AM PST by Wilhelm Tell
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide

I propose that we call this planet....Clintonia...in honor of his majesty...Omar Bill Clinton.


49 posted on 04/02/2005 12:09:51 AM PST by pepsionice
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To: Lee'sGhost

Gays: Uranus is just a Black Hole where ju put Jupiter.


50 posted on 04/02/2005 1:01:38 AM PST by UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide (Give Them Liberty Or Give Them Death! - Islam Delenda Est! - Rumble thee forth...)
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