Telescope snaps family portrait of 2 planets around baby sun

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CAPE CANAVERAL: For the first time, a telescope has captured a family portrait of another solar system with not just one, but two planets posing directly for the cameras while orbiting a star like our sun.

This baby sun and its two giant gas planets are fairly close by galactic standards at 300 light-years away.

The snapshot — released Wednesday — was taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

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This image made available by the European Southern Observatory in July 2020 shows the star TYC 8998-760-1, upper left, and two giant exoplanets. The image was captured by blocking the light from the young, Sun-like star, allowing for the fainter planets to be detected. The system is about 300 light-years away from Earth. Photo: Bohn et al./ESO via AP

 

What makes this group shot so appealing is it’s a “very young version of our own sun,” said Alexander Bohn of the Netherlands’ Leiden University, who led the study.

Bohn said he was “extremely excited” about the discovery. “This is the first time astronomers were able to capture such a shot,” he said in an email.

The observations can help scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system.

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Astronomers typically confirm worlds around other stars by observing brief but periodic dimming of the starlight, indicating an orbiting planet. Such indirect observations have identified thousands planets in our Milky Way galaxy.

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It’s much harder and less common for a telescope to directly observe these so-called exoplanets. To directly spot two of them around the same star is even rarer. Only two multi-planet solar systems have been spotted using the direct method, both with stars quite different than our sun, according to the observatory.

Of the 4,183 exoplanets confirmed to date, only 48 of them have been directly imaged — just 1 percent, according to NASA statistics. THT

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