Starts With A Bang

Watch: Four Gas Giants In Orbit Around Another Star For The First Time (Synopsis)

This 2010 picture of three of the four known exoplanets orbiting HR 8799 represents the first time a telescope this small - less than a full-grown human being - was used to directly image an exoplanet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Palomar Observatory.

“The Beta Pic animation looked so cool that we’ve wanted to do more. We wanted to make one that was even more impactful for the audience and could begin to show what one of these systems looks like.” -Jason Wang

In 2004, humanity was able to take the first direct image of an exoplanet around its parent star by going to infrared wavelengths. Four years later, the system HR 8799 was determined to have three (later upgraded to four) exoplanets orbiting it. They could all not only be imaged, but imaged over time. As the planets continue to move in their orbits, follow-up observations have continued to track them.

An exoplanet detected around the star Fomalhaut, seen to move in multiple images over time. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas, University of California, Berkeley and SETI Institute.

For the first time, we can directly determine the orbital period of planets around distant worlds from direct imaging. When the next generation of space and ground-based telescopes come online, we should be able to directly image worlds around thousands of stars, including Earth-like planets around the nearest ones.

Four gas giants orbiting the star HR 8799. Image credit: Jason Wang / Christian Marois.

Come get the full story in pictures, animations and no more than 200 words on this edition of Mostly Mute Monday.