Exoplanet Portraits

From Wired

Direct Images of Other Worlds

Another well-studied planet orbits around Beta Pictoris: a sun-like star 63 light-years away. The planet is estimated to be eight times more massive than Jupiter and orbit at only 8 astronomical units, about the distance between the sun and Saturn. Some data suggests the planet is unusually wide, and one explanation for this would be that it is surrounded by a ring of its own, perhaps making it even more like Saturn.

Because it is much closer to its star than most other directly imaged planets, astronomers have been able to image this exoplanet at many points of its orbit. It was seen once in 2003 and again, on the other side of the star, in 2009. Researchers estimate that the planet should complete its orbit in about 15 years.

Astronomers can also see a dust-free gap around Beta Pictoris. Because the planet is in the middle of the gap, it is suspected of vacuuming up the gas and dust that exists around the young star.

Images: ESO/VLT


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