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Lowest Mass Exoplanet Ever Directly Imaged. Probably. 43

The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers announced today that they have taken a direct image of the lowest mass exoplanet ever seen. HD 95086 b has a mass about 4 to 5 times that of Jupiter, and orbits a star 300 light years away that is slightly more massive and hotter than the Sun. The planet is not 100% confirmed, but it appears very likely to be real. If so, it's a hot gas giant, still cooling from its formation less than 20 million years ago. The picture, taken in the infrared, clearly shows the planet, making it one of fewer than a dozen such planets seen in actual telescopic images."
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Lowest Mass Exoplanet Ever Directly Imaged. Probably.

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  • A lot of these hot supermassive gas giants seem to be extremely young. I wonder what that says about planetary development. Do they lose mass after a billion or two years?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @06:53AM (#43903173) Journal

      I'm not an expert, so ignore me if one shows up; but my suspicion would be that they cool down enough that we can't see them anymore: You'd get a lot of heat, initially, when the planet coalesces; but if it isn't massive enough to ignite fusion and become a star, it'll just keep bleeding radiation into space until it reaches whatever equilibrium temperature the intensity and location of its local star provide for. As they get colder, their output gets weaker, until it gets to the point where our instruments are insufficiently sensitive to distinguish it from the background(unless it passes in front of its star, which has allowed us to indirectly infer the existence of smaller objects that we can't see directly).

    • It's very likely in a planetary system for large bodies to collide. Now, to aid in the planet formation process, those large chunks stick (mostly) together; but, with so many bodies orbiting the star, there will inevitably be some planet-sized bodies that either get decimated by these impacts, lose large masses (see: Earth's Moon) from these impacts, or have their orbits altered and begin a spiral of either death towards their star or loneliness out of their solar system.

      Another fair question is how many mo

    • A lot of these hot supermassive gas giants seem to be extremely young. I wonder what that says about planetary development. Do they lose mass after a billion or two years?

      It is suspect that stars lose planets during their evolution - either they collide or plunge into their fiery fathers, or get slingshot to hell. Even our own solar system is suspect (or rather is known by inference) to have had more planets and planetoids that what it had in the past.

      So what this could mean is that the more readily observable neighborhood with our current technology is composed of younger suns with younger, hotter gas giants. Observable =/= Existing. More precisely Existing > Observabl

  • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @06:08AM (#43903075)

    She can be directly imaged from 300 light years away.

  • What do they mean by lowest mass? Mass of Jupiter is 317 times the mass of earth and the planet they found has a mass 3 to 4 times that of earth.
    • Re:Lowest mass? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Cenan ( 1892902 ) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @06:59AM (#43903183)

      Directly observed - this planet has been imaged. Most of the confirmed planets from the Kepler mission are inferred from the dip in luminosity the parent star exhibits when the planet transitions across it, as viewed from Earth, or we can infer that there are planets/binary partner if a star "wobbles". Direct images of exo-planets are rare, even this one a mere 300 LY away is still only a tiny blip on the screen.

  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @07:46AM (#43903289)

    Twenty years ago, I though that there were relatively few exoplanets - only perhaps one in every few hundred systems having them - and even if there were one nearby, the chances of detecting it, ever, were small. Now we are knee deep in exoplanets, we know that large numbers of stars can have them, and we can even see them (probably). What I thought would never happen is fast transitioning from surprising to mundane.

    Which just goes to prove the to Clarke's law, that almost nothing is impossible, in due course. Once we couldn't see them. Now we can see them, but fear we will never visit them. But history shows that visiting will come, in time - provided we have enough time.

  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @08:02AM (#43903341) Homepage Journal
    ... what with ever-increasing effective apertures and all, we are going to see earth-sized explanets within some 20 or 30 years, at least during my expected lifetime. Maybe we will, within that time, even have spectroscopic analyses of some of these planets' atmospheres: oxygen? no oxygen ? Water in gas phase ? Nobody would have ever imagined that when I was an adolescent. All of which is pretty exciting.
    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      You must be pretty young then. When I was a kid, most people didn't realize that we couldn't already see exoplanets.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    But we may have deep-fried it, or possibly jerry-rigged it. We're just not certain at this stage. But imaging is definitely a possibility.

  • Truth in a headline. :-) I sped read the article, and it looks that they were alluding to the fact that it hasn't been confirmed as a planet. But after reading "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming", would speculate that you could also say that images have been taken that are still being analyzed, or that both computer and human observations have glossed over that show planets.

  • Lowest mass exoplanet directly seen from the Earth

    We don't know what aliens have seen orbiting other stars...

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