A few weeks ago, The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) captured a groundbreaking image. For the first time ever, we can see not one, but two exoplanets orbiting a star similar to our Sun.
The image was taken by SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument). It’s an instrument installed on VLT’s Unit Telescope 3 and designed particularly to search for exoplanets. This is the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun. ESO writes that the system is located about 300 light-years away from us, and it’s known as TYC 8998-760-1.
“This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution,” explains Alexander Bohn, a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands. In other words, it’s something like a younger version of our Sun.
Matthew Kenworthy, Associate Professor at Leiden University says that astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy. However, “only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged,” he adds.
In a blog post, ESO writes more about the planets and the star that they orbit:
“The two gas giants orbit their host star at distances of 160 and about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance. This places these planets much further away from their star than Jupiter or Saturn, also two gas giants, are from the Sun; they lie at only 5 and 10 times the Earth-Sun distance, respectively. The team also found the two exoplanets are much heavier than the ones in our Solar System, the inner planet having 14 times Jupiter’s mass and the outer one six times.”
Further observations of this system will enable astronomers to test whether these planets formed at their current location distant from the star or migrated from elsewhere. It will also help them understand how planets formed and evolved around our own Sun. If you’d like to read more about this discovery, make sure to visit ESO’s website.