Unique follow up observations carried out with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope are providing important supporting evidence for the existence of a candidate planetary companion to a relatively bright young brown dwarf star located 225 light-years away in the southern constellation Hydra.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile detected a planet candidate in April 2004 with infrared observations using adaptive optics to sharpen their view. The VLT astronomers spotted a faint companion object to the brown dwarf star 2MASSWJ 1207334-393254 (aka 2M1207). The object is a candidate planet because it is only one-hundredth the brightness of the brown dwarf (at the longer-than-Hubble wavelengths observed with the VLT) and glimmers at barely 1000 degrees Celsius, which is cooler than a light bulb filament.
Because an extrasolar planet has never been directly imaged before, this remarkable observation required Hubble’s unique abilities to do follow-up observations to test and validate if it is indeed a planet. Hubble’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) camera conducted complementary observations taken at shorter infrared wavelength observations unobtainable from the ground. This wavelength coverage is important because it is needed to characterize the object’s physical nature.
Lars Christensen | alfa
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