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article imageHubble scores first actual picture of planets outside our Solar System

By Paul Wallis     Nov 14, 2008 in Science
It’s taken eight years, but this is a truly never to be repeated event. Formalhaut b, 25 light years away, is a speck, but it’s the first sight of other worlds by another star, two small ones and a giant. Astronomers are dancing in the streets.
Visible and infrared images have been snapped of a planet orbiting a star 25 light-years away.
The planet is believed to be the coolest, lowest-mass object ever seen outside our own solar neighbourhood.
In a separate study, an exoplanetary system comprising three planets, has been directly imaged, circling a star in the constellation Pegasus.
Hubble has a habit of making the point that the light is there, it’s just a matter of getting it right. Sooner or later there will be enhancement technology which can unscramble incoming light and make it more useful. At this stage the constant tease of spectacular images is definitely having an impact on not only photography, but science.
The whole of astronomy is getting rewritten by increasing visual data. Formalhaut is a red star, one of the local stellar group, a near neighbor by space standards. The big red ring is considered to be protostellar debris around Formalhaut.
Nearby is a companion star, the “flare starTW Piscis Austrini, which is a variable star which occasionally fires flares of plasma. Must be some neighborhood.
Paul Kalas of the University of California led an international group that used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the region around a star called Fomalhaut.
The star has a massive ring of dust surrounding it that appears to have a cleanly groomed inner edge
Might be that the ring added a bit of contrast. Some things really are better identified by differing from their environment, and a big planet has a lot to recommend it as a contrast to a ring of dust.
They’ve even managed to start with a diagram of the Formalhaut system. Grab a cup of something, and wallow in it, it’s a joy to read.
People have been going nuts updating Wikis, and posting whatever they can.
"I nearly had a heart attack at the end of May when I confirmed that Fomalhaut b orbits its parent star," Dr Kalas said. "It's a profound and overwhelming experience to lay eyes on a planet never before seen."
Doesn’t sound like an astronomer, much, does he? If you’re one of the people who forever stares staggered at the stars, you’ll appreciate this moment, too.
More about Formalhaut, Extrasolar planets images, Hubble
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