In another first for modern astronomy, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have produced what may the first direct photograph of an exoplanet that is orbiting a star that has another previously-known planet that was found using the proven "transit method". The transit method is where the planet’s presence is detected by the dimming of the parent star as the planet transits between the star and Earth.
"If it is confirmed that CVSO 30c orbits CVSO 30, this would be the first star system to host both a close-in exoplanet detected by the transit method and a far-out exoplanet detected by direct imaging," according to the ESO release article.
The potential exoplanet, CVSO 30c, was photographed in the vicinity of a star designated CVSO 30, found in the constellation of Orion. Unfortunately, the combination of it being a very young T-Tauri star, and 1,200 light-years away, means that it can’t be seen by the naked eye. CVSO 30c has a verified in-system companion, CVSO 30b, a gas giant that has an extremely close orbit to its parent star, at less than one one-hundredth of the diameter of Earth’s orbit, with an extremely short year that lasts less than 11 hours.
CVSO 30c, on the other hand, has an extremely wide orbit, calculated to be nearly fourteen times further out than Pluto’s farthest reach, or 660 times that of Earth’s orbit. This gives it an extremely long orbital period — its year is 27,000 Earth-years long.
There is also the puzzle of how such a young star could form this arrangement of planets in such a short amount of time: "Astronomers are still exploring how such an exotic system came to form in such a short timeframe, as the star is only 2.5 million years old; it is possible that the two planets interacted at some point in the past, scattering off one another and settling in their current extreme orbits."
While confirmation of the find is still pending, the direct imaging of exoplanets promises to provide yet another avenue of discovery for astronomers as optical telescopes become increasingly more powerful. While the vast majority of exoplanets are spotted by the transit method, only a handful of planets have been found using direct imaging, with the first being found in 2010, in a system 500 light-years away.
- By NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC) - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA08042, Public Domain,
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