About 300 light-years away from us, two giant exoplanets are orbiting a young sun-like star.
The proof is in the picture: Scientists have captured the first direct image of this system.
By observing this system, centered around a star similar to ours that’s known as TYC 8998-760-1, astronomers can better understand how the planets in our solar system formed and evolved around the sun.
The difference is that this young sun is in a much earlier stage of its evolution, researchers said.
The star itself is only 17 million years old, which is young, astronomically speaking. It can be spotted in the Musca constellation in the southern sky. The researchers refer to it as a very young version of our sun, which is 4.6 billion years old.
“Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged,” said Matthew Kenworthy, study coauhor and associate professor at Leiden University, in a statement.
“Direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life.”
Astronomers used theE in Chile. The research and image were published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The telescope’s SPHERE instrument, or Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research, can image exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system, in optical and near-infrared light.
In May, astronomers shared an image of a planetary system being born that was captured by this instrument.
These direct images of exoplanets allow scientists a detailed look inside planetary systems outside of our own.
A similar environment
The two gas giant exoplanets were first found orbiting the young, sun-like star earlier this year. Both of them are much farther away from their host star than the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn are from our sun.
Future observations will provide more information about the system, including where the planets formed and if they migrated after forming, as well as understanding how the two planets interact with each other.
They are respectively 160 and 320 times the distance of the Earth to the sun, while Jupiter and Saturn are about five and 10 times the Earth-sun distance.
These two exoplanets are also much heavier. The inner planet has 14 times the mass of Jupiter, and the outer planet has six times the mass of Jupiter. For a sense of scale, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system.
Multiple images were captured at different times to show the planets and isolate them from stars in the background. The SPHERE is able to block bright starlight, which allows for imaging of planets, which are much fainter. Young planets emit a brighter glow than older planets, like those in our solar system, in infrared light.
“The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope), will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own Solar System,” said Alexander Bohn, lead study author and postdoctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in a statement.
The discovery was part of a larger survey for exoplanets around sun-like stars. Bohn said that the complete survey has 70 similar targets, and they’ve just completed about 20% of their observations.
“Perhaps there will be even more planetary systems that we might find around stars that are very similar to our Sun, just much younger,” Bohn said.