Our First Image of an Alien Solar System

This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows the star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets, TYC 8998-760-1b and TYC 8998-760-1c. The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the center (TYC 8998-760-1b) and bottom right (TYC 8998-760-1c) of the frame. Other bright dots, which are background stars, are visible in the image as well. By taking different images at different times, the team were able to distinguish these planets from the background stars.   

This is the first time astronomers have directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar in size to the Sun. Although astronomers have found thousands of exoplanets, most aren’t observed directly. Instead they are spotted as shadows crossing in front of their stars, or inferred as unseen forces tugging at their stars. The star, called TYC 8998-760-1, is about 300 light-years away in the constellation Musca.

This solar system is presumed to be comparably young, having been formed an estimated 17 million years ago, and the two visible orbiting planets are 14 and six times the size of Jupiter.

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