Finally, images of another solar system captured

November 14th, 2008 - 10:24 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Nov 14 (IANS) In one of the biggest breakthroughs in astronomy, Canadian, American and British astronomers have captured the images of another solar system for the first time.Though more than 200 planets in other solar systems have been detected so far through indirect studies of their gravitational pull on their parent star, astronomers have failed to capture their images till this discovery.

Using powerful telescopes at the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawaii, the astronomers captured the images of three huge planets orbiting around a sun known as HR8799.

Barely visible to the naked eye, this new sun is about 1.5 times the mass of our sun. It is estimated to be only 60 million years old, much younger compared to our sun which is 4.57 billion years old.

The three planets orbiting it are estimated to be about 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

The researchers, led by astronomer Christian Marois of the National Research Council Canada, used advanced image-processing techniques to detect the three faint planets against the bright glare of their sun, said a Toronto University release Thursday.

“It’s amazing to have a picture showing not one but three planets,” said project collaborator Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

“The discovery of the HR 8799 system (the new solar system) is a crucial step on the road to the ultimate imaging of another earth,” he said.

Further, infrared observations have also shown evidence of a massive disk of cold dust orbiting the newly discovered sun - much like our solar system’s dust disk which is produced by dust from the comets of the Kuiper Belt located just beyond the orbit of Neptune.

“HR 8799’s dust disk stands out as one of the most massive in orbit around any star within 300 light years of earth,” said co-author Ben Zuckerman of the University of California in Los Angeles.

From the glow or luminosities of the HR 8799 system, the astronomers have calculated that the three planets have masses between five and thirteen times that of Jupiter.

The giant planets orbit their star at roughly 25, 40 and 70 times the distance between the earth and the sun, making the HR 8799 solar system a scaled-up version of our solar system, the astronomers said.

“Detailed comparison with theoretical models confirms that all three planets possess complex atmospheres with dusty clouds partially trapping and re-radiating the escaping heat,” said astronomer and research team member Travis Barman of Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Calling it a truly amazing discovery, David Larcener of Toronto University said, “surely astronomers from all around the world will be very busy over the next few years to figure out the most intricate details of this fascinating system.”

The findings have been published in the Nov 13 online edition of international weekly Science.

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