Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Lightest exoplanet imaged so far?

Although nearly a thousand exoplanets have been detected indirectly — most using the radial velocity or transit methods [1] — and many more candidates await confirmation, only a dozen exoplanets have been directly imaged.
Nine years after ESO's Very Large Telescope captured the first image of an exoplanet, the planetary companion to the brown dwarf 2M1207 (eso0428 -

This image from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) shows the newly discovered planet HD95086 b, next to its parent star. The observations were made using NACO, the adaptative optics instrument for the VLT in infrared light, and using a technique called differential imaging, which improves the contrast between the planet and its dazzling host star. The star itself has been removed from the picture during processing to enhance the view of the faint exoplanet and its position is marked. The exoplanet appears at the lower left. The blue circle is the size of the orbit of Neptune in the Solar System. The star HD 95086 has similar properties to Beta Pictoris and HR 8799 around which giant planets have previously been imaged at separations between 8 and 68 astronomical units. These stars are all young, more massive than the Sun, and surrounded by a debris disc.

Credit: ESO/J. Rameau

public/news/eso0428/), the same team has caught on camera what is probably the lightest of these objects so far [2][3].

"Direct imaging of planets is an extremely challenging technique that requires the most advanced instruments, whether ground-based or in space," says Julien Rameau (Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble, France), first author of the paper announcing the discovery. "Only a few planets have been directly observed so far, making every single discovery an important milestone on the road to understanding giant planets and how they form."

In the new observations, the likely planet appears as a faint but clear dot close to the star HD 95086. A later observation also showed that it was slowly moving along with the star across the sky. This suggests that the object, which has been designated HD 95086 b, is in orbit around the star. Its brightness also indicates that it has a predicted mass of only four to five times that of Jupiter.

The team used NACO, the adaptive optics instrument mounted on one of the 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). This instrument allows astronomers to remove most of the blurring effects of the atmosphere and obtain very sharp images. The observations were made using infrared light and a technique called differential imaging, which improves the contrast between the planet and dazzling host star.

The newly discovered planet orbits the young star HD 95086 at a distance of around 56 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, twice the Sun–Neptune distance. The star itself is a little more massive than the Sun and is surrounded by a debris disc. These properties allowed astronomers to identify it as an ideal candidate to harbour young massive planets. The whole system lies some 300 light-years away from us.

The youth of this star, just 10 to 17 million years, leads astronomers to believe that this new planet probably formed within the gaseous and dusty disc that surrounds the star. "Its current location raises questions about its formation process. It either grew by assembling the rocks that form the solid core and then slowly accumulated gas from the environment to form the heavy atmosphere, or started forming from a gaseous clump that arose from gravitational instabilities in the disc." explains Anne-Marie Lagrange, another team member. "Interactions between the planet and the disc itself or with other planets may have also moved the planet from where it was born."

Another team member, Gaël Chauvin, concludes, "The brightness of the star gives HD 95086 b an estimated surface temperature of about 700 degrees Celsius. This is cool enough for water vapour and possibly methane to exist in its atmosphere. It will be a great object to study with the forthcoming SPHERE instrument on the VLT. Maybe it can also reveal inner planets in the system — if they exist." [4]


[1] Astronomers have already confirmed the existence of nearly a thousand planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Almost all were found using indirect methods that could detect the effects of the planets on their parent stars — the dips of brightness produced when planets crossed in front of them (the transit method), or the wobbling caused by the gravitational pull of planets in their orbits (the radial velocity method). So far, only a dozen exoplanets have been directly observed.

[2] Fomalhaut b may have a lower mass, but its brightness seems to be contaminated by light reflected from the surrounding dust, making the precise determination of its mass uncertain.

[3] This team also has observed an exoplanet around the star Beta Pictoris (eso1024 -, as well as several others.

[4] SPHERE is a second generation adaptive optics instrument that will be installed on the VLT in late 2013.

More information

This research was presented in a paper entitled, "Discovery of a probable 4-5 Jupiter-mass exoplanet to HD95086 by direct-imaging", to appear in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team is composed of J. Rameau (Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble France [IPAG]), G. Chauvin (IPAG), A.-M. Lagrange (IPAG), A. Boccaletti (Observatoire de Paris, France; University Pierre et Marie Curie Paris 6 and University Denis Diderot Paris 7, Meudon, France), S. P. Quanz (Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Switzerland), M. Bonnefoy (Max Planck Instiute für Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany [MPIA]), J. H. Girard (ESO, Santiago, Chile), P. Delorme (IPAG), S. Desidera (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Italy), H. Klahr (MPIA), C. Mordasini (MPIA), C. Dumas (ESO, Santiago, Chile), M. Bonavita (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Italy), Tiffany Meshkat (Leiden Observatory, the Netherlands), Vanessa Bailey (Univ. of Arizona, USA), and Matthew Kenworthy (Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".


Research paper -

Photos of the VLT -

Images taken with NACO -


Julien Rameau
Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de GrenobleFrance
Tel: +33 476 635 730
Gaël Chauvin
Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de GrenobleFrance
Tel: +33 476 635 886
Anne-Marie Lagrange
Institut de Planetologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble
Tel: + 33 476 514 203
Richard Hook
ESO, Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591

Richard Hook | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht Astrophysicists explain the mysterious behavior of cosmic rays
18.08.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Latest News

Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>