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Sunday, November 16, 2008

 

Exoplanets you can actually SEE!

Image Credit: W.M. Keck Observatory.

Well, provided you have a REALLY enormous telescope to hand. If you have been living under a rock, then you probably don't know that the Hubble Telescope has produced visible light images of a Jupiter-sized planet planet that circles the the Star Fomalhaut, and the the Gemini and Keck observatories have have imaged a planetary system around a fairly ordinary star, HR 8799 in Pegasus.

Normally planets around other stars are found by measuring the tiny wobbles in their parent star that the planets orbits produce, or measuring the tiny dips in light when a plants moves in front of its star, or more rarey by graviational lensing. There are the first, actual images of planets. They are fuzzy dots to be sure, but these dots are alien worlds. Just think of that.

Fomalhaut is special to me, as it is easily visible from my back yard, one of the bright southern stars that have accompanied my various stellar adventures. In fact, that Fomalhaut has planets is pretty amazing, given that most planest have been found around stars that are either too dim to see or just visible to the unaided eye (like HR899 in Pegasus, finder charts here).

But you don't want me wittering on about all this, there is a great post over at the Planetary Society by Amir Alexander, Systemic has some interesting musings, Tom has some choice words and Stuart also has a good take on this. And Stuarts name for Fomalhaut b is Sauron, that is the most appropriate planet name ever, We need to lobby the IAU for it to be adopted.

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