For the first time astronomers have obtained an image of a likely planet orbiting a distant but sun-like star. Like a lot of claims back in the 1990s about repeated “first” discoveries of black holes, there are a number of issues to consider about these early announcements. We’re going to see a lot more “first” planet images of various sorts in years to come, and have already seen a couple around low-mass brown dwarf stars. Still, this is wicked cool and a hint of a flood of information to come about planets in our galaxy. Let’s see the picture.
The big thing in the middle is the sun-like star, some 500 light-years away from us. The faint speck circled in red is our purported exoplanet, thought to be some 330 astronomical units (AU) from its sun (Earth is 1 AU from the sun, and Jupiter is 5 AUs). The bar on the bottom left shows an angle of one arcsecond, which is 1/3600 of a degree. The official caption for the image reads:
Gemini adaptive optics image of 1RSX J160929.1-210524 and its likely ~8 Jupiter-mass companion (within red circle). This image is a composite of J-, H- and K-band near-infrared images. All images obtained with the Gemini Altair adaptive optics system and the Near-Infrared Imager (NIRI) on the Gemini North telescope. Photo Credit and Press Release: Gemini Observatory.