First Picture of Alien Planet Orbiting Sunlike Star?

planet orbiting a sunlike star picture
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September 15, 2008—An image released today of a distant star and its potential planetary companion could go down in history as the first picture of a planet outside our solar system orbiting a sunlike star.

The possible planet—a hot, young body (upper left) about eight times more massive than Jupiter—sits roughly 330 times as far from its host star as Earth is from the sun. The pair lies about 500 light-years from Earth.

In 2004 a European team took the first direct snapshot of a likely planet near a brown dwarf, a dim object that astronomers think is a type of failed star. But scientists have been able to "see" extrasolar planets near sunlike stars only by looking for their gravitational effects.

Now scientists at the University of Toronto have captured infrared images of a so-called normal star and its potential orbiter using a ground-based telescope at the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii.

(Related: "Three 'Super-Earths' Found Orbiting Sunlike Star" [June 16, 2008].)

The researchers note that they aren't sure whether the body is really a planet or some other type of planetlike object, and it remains to be seen if it is truly orbiting the star.

"If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward," lead study author David Lafrenière said in a press release. The Toronto team describes its work in a paper recently published online.

—Victoria Jaggard

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