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Space Science

First Image of a Planet Orbiting a Sun-Like Star 131

Several readers including houbou and DigitumDei sent links to what may be the first-ever image of a planet orbiting a sun-like star (research paper). The giant planet, the mass of 8 Jupiters, orbits its star at 330 AU, or 11 times the distance to Neptune's orbit. If the imaged object does turn out to be a planet — and it's not certain it is — then theories of planet formation may have to be adjusted. "The bulk of the material from which planets might form is significantly closer to the parent star... The outermost parts of such disks wouldn't contain enough material to assemble a Jupiter-mass planet at the distance from the star... at which the Toronto team found the faint object."
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First Image of a Planet Orbiting a Sun-Like Star

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  • ARGH! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:11PM (#25033011)

    Damn you, Google Star View! There IS such a thing as privacy, you know!

    • Re:ARGH! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:15PM (#25033065)

      Google has no problem with protecting a star's privacy as long as they file out a request. Google has already sent out a message discussing their privacy policy. Considering that this star is 472 light years away, Google might have to update their system in about 944 years.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "What do you mean you've never been to Alfa Centauri? Oh, for heavens sake mankind, it's only four light years away. I'm sorry but if you can't bother to take an interest in local affairs then ..." HHGG

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by aliquis ( 678370 )

          Yeah, but what is more worrying if a planet can't be made at this distance it must either be the Vogons or the Borgs, and in either case we're fucked.

    • Re:ARGH! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:42PM (#25034109)
      Just in case the article will be slashdotted, here's the image:
      Planet ----> . O <---- Star
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:14PM (#25033047)
    ...and yet where's the second pic to prove that it orbits?
    • At that distance, its year would be many hundreds of years long. It'll take a long time to see any change in position visually.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, assuming the object is orbiting the star, and using some quick and very dirty calculations based on information in the article, it has an orbital period of between 6 and 7 thousand years. Even if we were viewing at a right angle to its orbital trajectory it would take years to see it move at all and many more to determine its orbit with any certainty.

    • They are open to that idea. From the article:

      [...] there's a small chance that the object, small enough to be classified as a planet, merely resides in the same part of the sky as the star but is not gravitationally bound to it.

    • by lucason ( 795664 )

      ...and yet where's the second pic to prove that it orbits?

      How could a second pic prove that?

  • "Oh! Oh! What is that?! What is that?!!? A new planet?!!

    Nope. Cheetoh."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:18PM (#25033087)

    The Toronto people are just confused as to why the planet isn't orbiting around them.

  • by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:20PM (#25033109)
    O .
    • All Wrong! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:54PM (#25033401)

      Ridiculous! That picture is completely distorted! What paper are you looking at?

      It was a lot more like this:


    • by Anonymous Coward

      As you can see from the nearly egg-like shape as the centrifugal forces compress the equator.

      And if you observe that the planet orbits below the elliptical, you will have to agree that the planet was a rogue that was captured long after the star's formation.

      • As you can see from the nearly egg-like shape as the centrifugal forces compress the equator.

        You are joking, aren't you? Centrifugal force makes it get larger around the equator, not smaller.

    • More photo-realistic low-bandwidth images of the above are available on any CD-disk's bottom-side. Just touch the screen with that CD. Blinking your eyes while doing that converts it into a slideshow.
    • by Kligat ( 1244968 )
      If the Earth were as big as your arm, the Moon would be twenty feet away. Unfortunately, there isn't enough room for that much space on your computer screen.
    • by jobst ( 955157 )

      or this :-O

      in case the theory goes Bang (big bang, big bada bum).

  • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:22PM (#25033123)

    If the imaged object does turn out to be a planet â" and it's not certain it is â" then theories of planet formation may have to be adjusted.

    Whereas if this thing that is bigger than 8 Jupiters turns out to be something other than a planet, we may have some other theories to adjust. But I, for one, welcome our giant space traveling overlords!

    • I dunno, I couldn't see any legs dangling off it to be certain it was an Overlord. Perhaps it's just the Queen.
    • The Astronomical term is a Super Jupiter, which describes a gas giant of four times or larger than Jupiter in our solar system.

      A Jupiter sized planet or larger that is under 1 AU orbit from it's star is called a Hot Jupiter, because it will be heated up from it's star's heat.

      Astronomers like [] Carl Sagan [] came up with those terms, including billions and billions and billions ever before McDonalds [] copyrighted that term to describe the number of people that get fat or unhealthy from eating at their fast food joi

      • And yet, I think I can say this with certainty, Carl Sagan really doesn't care about those domain names.

      • Carl Sagan came up with the term "googel". Google's name is a misspelled joke.
        • Wasn't it "googol"? And from what I've heard, it wasn't coined by Sagan, but by the nephew(son?) of some mathematician. I guess Sagan invented googolplex though. Someone less lazy than me please Google for it.
          • Yes and yes. It was Googol [] but it is also spelled Google and Googel in various languages. They all mean almost the same thing, ten to the power of a hundred. That is how many web pages claims it can handle, that is a large number used to count stars, and used in math and science.

  • Old news... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I've seen plenty of pictures of Earth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:23PM (#25033141)

    I suspect that will be the case for many many decades/centuries, considering a current sample size of 9 +/- planets big enough to wobble their stars enough that we can see with current tech.

    I suspect the more we resolve and catalog and the more we get direct observations of planets, the more the theories will change.

    • I suspect the more we resolve and catalog and the more we get direct observations of planets, the more the theories will change.

      Do you really think so? I wonder if that principle applies to other things too. Like if astronomers keep observing galaxies then theories of galaxy formation will evolve too.

      • by PhreakOfTime ( 588141 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @11:16PM (#25034611) Homepage

        1) In the 1700's some French guy starts a list of objects that are in the sky that resemble comets, but are not. They are assumed to be relatively nearby objects. One has the name M31.

        2) In the early 1900's some American guy comes along and looks a little closer at those objects, and finds not only are they not nearby, but they are entire islands of stars, and we live in one of those islands too! And M31 ends up being over 2 million light years away.

        3) In the later part of the 20th century, an astronomical space based telescope, discovers the background variations in the left overs of the big bang, that led to the eventual location of these things now called 'galaxies'

        Charles Messier, Edwin Hubble, and the COBE satellite would like to have a discussion with you about the scientific method.

        In other words, yes. The theories on planet formation will change the larger the sample size gets. Just the same way the awareness and eventual theories of galaxies changed as they were observed more often and became part of a larger sample size - the known visible universe

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          And in the early 21st century, observations at the LHC and a new binocular radio telescope show conclusively that several assumed constants (Hubble constant, gravitational constant, age of universe, etc) were actually way off, and the stars are all really etched into a dome circling the earth about 300 miles up.

  • First? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:24PM (#25033153) Journal

    This [] is no longer the "first" directly observed extrasolar planet? What value of "first" is are we using now?

  • ... that's no moon ...

  • by wigaloo ( 897600 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:51PM (#25033371)
    The discovery was made using the 8m diameter Gemini Telescope - North [] on Mauna Kea. It's doesn't have Hubble's advantage of being in space, and so a clever approach is employed to eliminate interference from atmospheric turbulence. A laser is used to induce fluorescence in the sodium layer left by meteors up around 80 km altitude. -- this is called a "guide star" -- and adaptive (i.e., deformable) optics in the telescope bring the guide star image into sharp focus, and the rest of the scene with it. A guide star is used for this process rather than an actual star because it is much easier to adaptively image a bright object (which can also be positioned where needed). Such a clear image would otherwise not have been possible.
    • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:35AM (#25035179)

      Just to flesh this out and offer a few corrections, as someone who works around the AO LGS at Gemini (and Keck):

      Tomduck is correct that an adaptive optics (AO) system uses deformable optics to bring a guide star into sharp focus, and the rest of the scene with it. He fails to mention that this process is in no way inherently dependent upon the use of a laser. Indeed, when a bright natural star is close enough to the target to be used, it is in many ways preferable to using the laser. (For one, the brightness of natural stars tends to be pretty constant, and not subject to the usual game of "so, how many watts shy of nominal power are we tonight?" :) So Gemini's AO system, Altair (read all about it here []) is quite often used with natural guide stars (NGS).

      A NGS can, incidentally, also be used for guiding - keeping the telescope pointed correctly - as its name implies. This isn't the case for a laser guide star (LGS), which in fact has absolutely no use for pointing, since the laser is fastened to, and aligned with, the telescope. It's a horrible misnomer. :( LGS come into play because the field of view of large (8-10m) telescopes is narrow enough that NGS are frequently not visible at the same time as science targets.

      There are three large telescopes on Mauna Kea with LGS capabilities - Keck II has an older-technology sodium dye laser (pumped/amped by about six YAGs), Gemini has a solid-state (crystal) laser, and I'm not certain what Subaru has as I haven't worked with them yet. The W.M. Keck Observatory has funding to put a laser on Keck I also, but I'm unsure when it'll be operational. All of the lasers propagate at around 589nm for sodium fluorescence (this is coincidentally about the same frequency put out by the low-pressure sodium streetlights used in the towns on the island, so astronomers can pretty much ignore this frequency).

      Each beam is about 8-12W with an objective lens diameter of typically 30-50cm, spreading a little as it goes up. Not enough power to punch holes in stuff, but enough that the FAA requires aircraft spotters to be positioned outside each observatory to make sure they don't blind the pilots of flights between the west coast and Australia/New Zealand. I've done this work sporadically since 2005 at Keck and 2006 at Gemini, so I have tons of pictures and time-lapse video... here's one [] of the Gemini beam with me ruining the picture by sitting in front of it.

      Along with the FAA, AFSC (that's Air Force Space Command, not the American Friends Service Committee) is rather particular about us not shining the bright lights into the sensitive sensors of keyholes and such things. We look up, they look down, etc.

      By the way, if there are any Farkers on the Big Island of Hawaii who think this kind of work sounds like fun, it looks like Keck has openings []. It's temp-agency work, and probably the coldest, highest-altitude temp-agency work you'll ever get...

  • If you're of the opinion that we'll only find "life as we know it" on an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star in the habitable zone, then we haven't really got any data on how common their configuration is, so its a complete mystery how many civilizations like ours there are out there. Of course, if you're of the opinion that "as we know it" really isn't that important, then that's not entirely relevant.

    Oh, and here's my exoplanet rant [] that I post every time one of these stories hits Slashdot.

    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      As far as a truly "Earth-like" rocky planet being discovered around a star of spectral classes between F & M type stars, I think it may be a bit longer than 2012 before that can happen.

      Mind you, telescope precision and monitoring Doppler variations in radial velocities of stars are improving significantly (where most of these "discoveries" are happening), it would take some very hard precision instruments to be able to detect an "Earth-like" mass object. Smaller planets thus far identified are still at

  • Planetary Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:53PM (#25033393) Homepage Journal

    If the imaged object does turn out to be a planet â" and it's not certain it is â" then theories of planet formation may have to be adjusted

    Since all of the current theories about planetary formation around stellar objects consist of a statistical sample of one, I'd like to hope that Astro-physicists would be able to come up with some better theories when that sample size is increased.

    One thing we do know from stellar observations is that binary or multiple star systems are much more common than solitary stellar systems like we have here around Sol. Even from observation of stellar nurseries it is also apparent that the physical structures that give rise to stars are born in highly complex environments of which our Solar System was likely a rather bland or even "ideal laboratory" example of how planetary systems were created.

    Given the distance (330 AU... about 1/10th the same distance as between the Sun and Neptune) and if I were "betting" on what would be found with a planetary probe going to this star system, I think you would find nearly a complete planetary system around this gas giant as well, with this "planet" simply being in the Continuum between O-class blue giant stars and grains of sand.

    Of course this observation of discovering a secondary system is based upon a sample size of 4 gas giants in our own solar system that all seem to have their own satellite systems as well. That is more like shooting fish in a barrel to make this sort of prediction.

    Seriously, other than a highly simplistic planetary creation model, I fail to see what huge changes in formation theory this will actually make, other than to give more pause to think about how complex the stellar formation process might be.

    • by JackCroww ( 733340 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @08:20PM (#25033575)
      Maybe you made a typo, but Neptune orbits at roughly 30 AU from Sol, making Neptune at 1/10th the distance of the exo-planet in the article. Hence the question of WTF is it doing out so far from its primary? However, if it wasn't a typo on your part, you need to bone up on your basic Solar system facts, and your theory about it being a typical planetary system would be dead wrong.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Teancum ( 67324 )

        I meant that Neptune was 1/10th the distance as this object. Yeah, I screwed up here. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • Oort Cloud object 2006 SQ372, a minor planet ( is 1600AU-2000AU out from Sol. By way of comparison, Sedna is 88AU.

        Right now, it being 472 light years away (29,849,752 AU! or, 111 trips from Sol to Proxima Centauri...) we don't even know if it is a dual sun or not. Let alone what local conditions are like.

        The heck with the Delta Quadrant! This this thing is FAR AWAY.

        So personally, 330AU may not be irrational for a large solar sys
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JaimeZX ( 780523 )
      There was an excellent article in a recent issue of Scientific American [] that discussed updated theories of planet formation based on not only our solar system, but observations of other systems as well.

      The short version, IIRC goes something like this:

      * Star forms. The remaining disk around the star consists mainly of grains of dust, which slowly clump together under their own gravity.

      * As clumps get bigger, they create a gravitational "wake" of particulates in the vicinity of their orbit. The wa
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Since all of the current theories about planetary formation around stellar objects consist of a statistical sample of one, I'd like to hope that Astro-physicists would be able to come up with some better theories when that sample size is increased.

      With enough detail and enough volume to have from all stages of the formation perhaps, but since we understand gravity quite well I think simulation is the key here. Observation will tell you something about the realm of possible planets, but I think it would take us a very long time to get accurate models based off observation.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        What we don't know here are the starting conditions that exist within a "typical" stellar nursery, or even what variables there might be in terms of typical stellar systems for metal-rich gaseous clouds (of the kind that create rocky planets like the Earth).

        Yeah, we have a pretty good understanding of gravity and even enhanced understanding of subtle variations caused by Relativity thanks to Einstein (something often missing from simulations due to complexity of the calculations), but it is these additional

    • by thePig ( 964303 )

      Can it just be that due to the gravitational pull of some other system (say another star which went past close enough) pulled the planet out?

  • by lowy ( 91366 ) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:59PM (#25033433) Homepage

    If you look closely you can clearly see that it's just the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) in "outer orbit" doing a routing scientific study. Nothing to see here, move along.

  • roughly 11 times Neptuneâ(TM)s average distance from the sun..

    As much as I'd like to quantify things in reference to Neptune, isn't there a planet your readers are more likely to associate with?

  • The star the planet is orbiting around is not a sun-like star. It is a K star, which is cooler and smaller in size than the Sun. I would argue that it is a planetary object near a star, period. It may not even be orbiting the damn thing. You would have to wait a few years to see if the star and the planetary object have common proper motion.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      I thought you were going to say it was not entirely correct because it was not the first picture of a planet orbiting a sun-like star.

      Almost every picture I've ever taken is of a planet orbiting a sun-like star, excepting those pictures I've taken of the night sky. The Earth is, in fact, a planet and as the Sun is very sun-like indeed, the Earth is a planet orbiting a sun-like star.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:38PM (#25034401)

    orbiting stars that are totally unlike the sun?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The majority of extra-solar planets so far discovered have been massive, extremely close orbitting bodies; so called 'hot-jupiters', usually 10-20x the mass of our own Jupiter, so they're verging more on being Brown Dwarves than planets.

      The reason for this is that the primary way of discovering an extra solar planet is by measuring the orbital perburbation that the planet causes on it's parent sun - the star seems to wobble or oscillate as it tracks. The secondary way is to measure the change in instensity

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      This one: []

      It orbits a brown dwarf. A very non-sunlike star.

  • []

    of an extrasolar planet. I think it would be amazing and hopefully spur people's imaginations to see beyond themselves.

    Any astronomers out there care to speculate on the feasibility getting an image like this?

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      Getting an image like that from a planet orbiting different star would require "collecting photons" for a long long time. Surface details would take even longer, as the rotation of the planet would need to be taken into account too. And it would always be an image of a single planet, and perhaps a separate image for a moon orbiting it, but getting them in the same picture would be just "photoshopping" the images together.

      And the image would not really be a photo or a snapshot, but instead made "artificially

  • In the article the discoverers note that there is a chance that the object is not bound to the proposed parent star as it is in a young grouping of stars that is likely to have a few unattached planets roaming around loose. However, they then state that if it is attached the are puzzled by how it came to form out so far from the primary.

    I don't understand why this would be so hard to understand. Many stars are found in binary or even trinary system. The closest stars (Alpha, Beta and Proxima Centauri)

  • by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @07:51AM (#25037335) Homepage

    This photo is just beautiful. Congratulations to the astronomers involved!

  • We don't have to adjust the theories of planet formation because of this. It's simply a Dyson Sphere. The actual planet is much smaller than that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      They built the Dyson sphere around the planet but _not_ around the star to capture all its energy? Someone needs to grab the picture of this and caption it "Ur doin it rong!"
  • If the planet is a Super Jupiter and it's 330 au out, that star must be something like 100au, does anyone actually know? I couldn't see it in the article.

Forty two.