Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Astronomers confirm the first image of a planet outside of our solar system


An international team of astronomers reports April 29 the confirmation of the discovery of a giant planet, approximately five times the mass of Jupiter, that is gravitationally bound to a young brown dwarf. This discovery puts an end to a yearlong discussion on the nature of this object, which started with the detection of a red object close to the brown dwarf.

In February and March of this year, the astronomers took new images of the young brown dwarf and its giant planet companion with the state-of-the-science NACO instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. The planet is near the southern constellation of Hydra and approximately 200 light years from Earth.

"Our new images show convincingly that this really is a planet, the first planet that has ever been imaged outside of our solar system," said Gael Chauvin, astronomer at the ESO and leader of the team of astronomers who conducted the study.

"The two objects -- the giant planet and the young brown dwarf -- are moving together; we have observed them for a year, and the new images essentially confirm our 2004 finding," said Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, member of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, and a member of the team. "I’m more than 99 percent confident. This is also the first time that a planet outside of our solar system has been detected far from a star or brown dwarf -- nearly twice as far as the distance between Neptune and the sun."

Anne-Marie Lagrange, another member of the team from the Grenoble Observatory in France, said, "Our discovery represents a first step towards one of the most important goals of modern astrophysics: to characterize the physical structure and chemical composition of giant and, eventually, terrestrial-like planets."

Last September, the same team of astronomers reported a faint reddish speck of light in the close vicinity of a young brown dwarf. The feeble object, now called 2M1207b, is more than 100 times fainter than the brown dwarf, 2M1207A. The spectrum of 2M1207b presents a strong signature of water molecules, thereby confirming that it must be cold. Based on the infrared colors and the spectral data, evolutionary model calculations led to the conclusion that 2M1207b is a five-Jupiter-mass planet. Its mass can be estimated also by use of a different method of analysis, which focuses on the strength of its gravitational field; this technique suggests that the mass might be even less than that of five Jupiters.

At the time of its discovery in April 2004, it was impossible to prove that the faint source is not a background object (such as an unusual galaxy or a peculiar cool star with abnormal infrared colors), even though this appeared very unlikely. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, obtained in August 2004, corroborated the VLT/NACO observations, but were taken too soon after the NACO ones to demonstrate conclusively that the faint source is a planet.

The new observations show with high confidence that the two objects are moving together and hence are gravitationally bound.

The paper describing this research has been accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics, a premier journal in astronomy.

"Given the rather unusual properties of the 2M1207 system, the giant planet most probably did not form like the planets in our solar system," Chauvin said. "Instead it must have formed the same way our sun formed, by a one-step gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust."

The same European/American team has had another paper just accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics. This paper reports the imaging discovery with the same VLT/NACO instrumentation of a lightweight companion to AB Pictoris, a young star located about 150 light years from Earth. The estimated mass of the companion is between 13 and 14 times the mass of Jupiter, which places the companion right on the borderline between massive planets and the lowest mass brown dwarfs.

"Remarkably, this companion is located very far from its host star -- about nine times farther from AB Pictoris than Neptune is from the sun," Zuckerman said. Nothing so far from its star has ever been seen in a planetary system before, he added.

Brown dwarfs, the missing link between gas giant planets like Jupiter and small, low?mass stars, are failed stars about the size of Jupiter, with a much larger mass -- but not quite large enough to become stars. Like the sun and Jupiter, they are composed mainly of hydrogen gas, perhaps with swirling cloud belts. Unlike the sun, they cannot fuse protons to helium nuclei as their primary internal energy source, and they emit almost no visible light.

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht 'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region
16.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Fraunhofer HHI have developed a novel single-polarization Kramers-Kronig receiver scheme
16.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

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: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>