Space pictures: First-ever photo of planets around sun – ‘Important in alien life search’

Photos of systems with multiple exoplanets are extremely rare, and — until now — astronomers had never directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The latest observations can help astronomers understand the formation and evolution of planets around our own Sun.

Just a few weeks ago, ESO revealed a planetary system being born in a new, stunning VLT image.

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

Alexander Bohn

Now, the same telescope, using the same instrument, has taken the first direct image of a planetary system around a star like our Sun, located about 300 light-years away and known as TYC 8998-760-1.

Alexander Bohn, a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who led the new research, revealed the image’s importance.

He told “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.


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“We have found two giant planets orbiting a Sun-like star at very large separations – even larger than the farthest planets in our solar system.”

The study’s Principal Investigator believes the discovery of the ‘intriguing system’ could revolutionise our understanding about how solar system’s like ours evolve.

He said: “Only a few tenths of exoplanets have been imaged so far. And even fewer systems with several companions have been imaged – only two.

“And those two lone multi-planet systems already imaged are found around stars different from our Sun.

“This is really the first time we imaged two planets around the star that is pretty much like our Sun.

“We found that it exactly has one solar mass, but it is not a direct copy of ours, it is much younger than the Sun we have in our solar system.

“It’s just 17 million years old, compared to the 4.6 billion year age of our Sun.

“We have now found a very intriguing system, because the separations are that far apart.

“This new system, this brings up interesting questions, especially how those objects form.”


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Astronomers believe planets in our solar system could not have formed at those separations.

Mr Bohn added: “So, either it is a different mechanism that produced these planets and put them out there and they form directly out there, or they formed inside separations that are common in the solar system and migrated out, driven either by scattering or other effects.

“This is extremely interesting because we learn now more about how solar-light environment can look like because so far we rather than the one very well characterised till the system we live in.”

Matthew Kenworthy, Associate Professor at Leiden University and co-author of the research said: “Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged.”

He added: “Direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life.”

Maddalena Reggiani, a postdoctoral researcher from KU Leuven, Belgium, who also participated in the study, said: “Our team has now been able to take the first image of two gas giant companions that are orbiting a young, solar analogue.

The two planets can be seen in the new image as two bright points of light distant from their parent star.

By taking different images at different times, the team were able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.

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