Monday, September 15, 2008
Most of the exo-solar planets that have been imaged thus far have been orbiting cool brown dwarfs, also known as failed stars. A team of Canadian astronomers, using the Gemini North telescope, have taken the first picture of a planet orbiting a normal sun-like, star. The team used Gemini's adaptive optics system, Altair, along with a near-infrared imager to capture the data.
The planet is about 8 times as massive as Jupiter and is located at a distance of 330 Astronomical Units from the star. If the star was the same age as our Sun, the planet would be much too faint to image from Earth. However, the parent star, and hence the planet, are very young. The planet is still cooling and its current temperature is about 1500C which makes the planet bright enough to image in the infrared.
One interesting question raised by this discovery is whether similar massive planets exist in our solar system. Perhaps one more Jupiter-mass planets are lurking out with the Kuiper belt objects beyond Pluto!