First Photos taken of Extrasolar Planets

Friday, November 14 2008 @ 01:36 pm EST

Contributed by: dgrosvold

Digital Image courtesy NASA
The New York Times reports that two groups of astronomers have taken what appears to be possible images of planets orbiting nearby stars. One team found a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut in the constellation of Picis Austrinus. Fomalhaut is only 25 light-years from the Sun. This team, from the University of California at Berkeley, is lead by Dr. Paul Kalas. “I nearly had a heart attack.” said Dr. Kalas in an e-mail interview when he confirmed his discovery last May.

Dr. Christian Marois, of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, British Columbia, led the other team. His team found three extrasolar planets orbiting HR 8799, a 130 light-year-distant star in Pegasus. Dr. Marois said, “It's the tip of the iceberg. Now that we know they are there, there is going to be an explosion.”

According to Dr. Kalas's calculations, Fomalhaut b is about three times as massive as Jupiter. The planet makes a complete orbit roughly every 872 years, traveling around the inner edge of a immense band of dust orbiting the star.

Read the entire original article on the NY Times web site.

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