Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2008 November 28
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Probably a Planet for Beta Pic
Credit: ESO, A.-M. Lagrange (LAOG), et al.

Explanation: A mere 50 light-years away, young star Beta Pictoris became one of the most important stars in the sky in the early 1980s. Satellite and ground-based telescopic observations revealed the presence of a surrounding outer, dusty, debris disk and an inner clear zone about the size of our solar system -- strong evidence for the formation of planets. Now, infrared observations from European Southern Observatory telescopes incorporated in this composite offer a detection of a source in the clear zone that is most likely a giant planet orbiting Beta Pic. Designated Beta Pictoris b, the new source is more than 1,000 times fainter than the direct starlight that has been carefully subtracted from the image data. It is aligned with the disk at a projected distance that would place it near the orbit of Saturn if found in our solar system. Confirmation that the new source is a planet will come if future observations can demonstrate that the source moves in an orbit around the star. When confirmed, it will be the closest planet to its parent star directly imaged ... so far.

Tomorrow's picture: skyscape

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