Scientists make first direct observations of an extrasolar planet


The four telescopes making up the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) of Paranal, Chile (ESO / PA)

Astronomers have done the first direct observations of a planet outside the solar system using a technique combining the light of several telescopes.

The "super Jupiter" at 129 light-years from Earth has turned out to have a stormy atmosphere with swirling clouds of iron and silicate.

Usually, scientists must use indirect methods to study exoplanets because of the blinding light of their stars. On this occasion, they used a technique called optical interferometry that allowed four telescopes to work together.

The result is an imaging system sensitive enough to separate light from the planet and its parent star.

The results of Gravity, an instrument combining four light beams from the very large telescope interferometer (VLTI) of the European Southern Observatory, Chile, were published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The planet, known as the HR8799e, was discovered in 2010 orbiting a star in the constellation Pegasus. It is a unique world in our solar system, which is both more massive and much younger than any planet orbiting the sun.

Illuminated gas ball

Sylvestre Lacour, from the Paris Observatory in France and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, said: "Our observations suggest a gas ball lit from the inside, with rays of warm light swirling through clouds Stormy and dark.

"The convection moves around clouds of silicate and iron particles, which disintegrate and rain inwards. This depicts the dynamic atmosphere of a giant exoplanet at birth, subject to complex physical and chemical processes. "

Previous achievements of Gravity include last year's observation of gas swirling at 30% of the speed of light, just outside the gigantic black hole in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

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