Monday, November 17, 2008

Hubble Directly Observes a Planet Orbiting Another Star

Dave Tackett of Quasar Dragon blog sends in a note of a truly startling first from the venerable Hubble space telescope. For the first time ever, we now have a picture of an extra-solar planet orbiting is parent sun! Nasa estimates the planet to be no more than three times Jupiter's mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b. The planet orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish." The star first attracted interest in 2004 when Hubble first photographed the star noting an unusual dust ring around the star. This large debris disk is similar to the Kuiper Belt, which encircles the solar system and contains a range of icy bodies from dust grains to objects the size of dwarf planets, such as Pluto. Astronomers at the University of California at Berkeley, proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified by a planet lying between the star and the ring's inner edge. Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring's inner edge. The results are being reported in the November 14 issue of Science magazine.

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