Hubble, Keck and Gemini directly image distant exoplanets

An artist’s impression of Formalhalt b orbiting its parent star.
Credit: ESA, NASA and L. Calçada (ESO)

In two separate papers published in the journal Science today, astronomers announced that they have directly imaged several extrasolar planets around other stars. One team used Hubble to find an approximately 3 Jupiter mass planet orbiting the star Formalhalt, whilst another team used Keck and the Gemini telescopes to find a family of planets around the star HR8799. Hubble studied Formalhalt in visible light and was able to make what can only be described as a truly remarkable image (see below), of the planet embedded within the star’s dusty disc. I think Stuart’s suggestion for its name is spot on.

The view of Formalhalt (masked by a coronagraph) showing the new planet embedded within a dusty disc (inset). See the annotated full-resolution image here.
Credit: NASA, ESA and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley, USA)

These discoveries clearly mark an important waypoint in our efforts to image an Earth like planet around a distant star, but they are also absolutely amazing in their own right. There’s far more in-depth commentary out there in the blogosphere, so I’ll point you in the direction of Sarah Askew, Phil Plait, Dave Mosher (who has a great IM interview with an exoplanet expert) and of course there’s an episode of the Hubblecast that you can watch below!

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