November 19, 2012
Rare Glimpse Of Planet With Its Host Star
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A rare glimpse of a "Super Jupiter" has been caught while the planet was circling around its host star with a mass 2.5 times that of our Sun.
Astronomers, led by Joseph Carson (College of Charleston and Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and using the Subaru Telescope, were able to capture an image of the planet around the massive star K Andromedae.
Only a few exoplanets have ever been captured in actual astronomical images, because the majority of the nearly 850 discovered are hidden behind the glare of its host star.
The research team used advanced techniques for observation and image analysis to obtain the image of the planet. One challenge for the astronomers was that the orbit of the planet is somewhat larger than that of Neptune.
The planet has a mass about 13 times that of Jupiter, and it could be a planet, or maybe even a very lightweight "brown dwarf". The astronomers say that most likely it is a planet, considering circumstantial evidence.
The new Super-Jupiter orbits a fairly young star, and astronomers believe it formed in a manner similar to that of lower mass planets.
Researchers believe Super-Jupiter formed within the "protoplanetary" disk of gas and dust which surrounded the star during its earliest stages.
Observers and theoreticians argue that large, massive stars like this one are more likely to have large planets than smaller ones, like our Sun. Massive stars emit enormous amounts of high-energy radiation that could dissipate parts of the protoplanetary disc, which would disrupt planet formation.
The discovery indicates that stars as massive as 2.5 solar masses are still fully capable of producing planets within their primordial circumstellar disks.
An advantage astronomers have of directly observing a planet is access to follow-up examinations by traditional astronomical techniques. Astronomers will follow-up with more observations to help lead to a better understanding of the gas giant's atmospheric chemistry, and give more information about the planet's orbit. They will also be checking for additional planets around the star.
Astronomers will have a better understanding of the Super-Jupiter's make-up, and about planet formation around massive stars in general.