First Exoplanets Seen! Could they be looking back at us?

By | November 14, 2008


The first pictures of planets outside our solar system have been taken, two groups report in the journal Science.

Visible and infrared images have been snapped of a planet orbiting a star 25 light-years away.

The planet is believed to be the coolest, lowest-mass object ever seen outside our own solar neighbourhood.

In a separate study, an exoplanetary system comprising three planets, has been directly imaged, circling a star in the constellation Pegasus.

While several claims have been made to such direct detection before, they have later been proven wrong.
The search for exoplanets has up to now depended on detecting either the wobble they induce on their parent star or, if their orbits are side-on to telescopes, watching them dim the star’s light as they pass in front of it.

Being able to directly detect the light from these planets will allow astronomers to study their composition and atmospheres in detail.


A to-scale comparison of the HR 8799 system and our own planets (the inner four planets are not shown.)

The difficulty for astronomers imaging exoplanets has until now been that their parent stars’ light swamps them – like trying to spot a match next to a floodlight at a distance of a mile. But advances in optics and image processing have allowed astronomers to effectively subtract the bright light from stars, leaving behind light from the planets. That light can either come in the infrared, caused by the planets’ heat, or be reflected starlight. … – bbc

How does Fomalhaut compare to our sun?

Fomalhaut is much hotter than our sun and is 16 times as bright. This means a planetary system could scale up in size with a proportionally larger Kuiper Belt feature and scaled-up planet orbits. For example, the “frost line” in our solar system — the distance where ices and other volatile elements will not evaporate — is roughly at 500 million miles from the sun. But for hotter Fomalhaut, the frost line is at roughly 1.9 billion miles from the star.

Could there be advanced life on any of these three planets? T

Fomalhaut is burning hydrogen at such a furious rate through nuclear fusion that it will burn out in only 1 billion years, which is 1/10th the lifespan of our sun. This means there is little opportunity for advanced life to evolve on any habitable worlds the star might possess. – hubble

How about remedial life? The planet called Fomalhaut b is about three times the size of Jupiter. Could life exist on Jupiter?

It is considered highly unlikely that there is any Earth-like life on Jupiter, as there is only a small amount of water in the atmosphere and any possible solid surface deep within Jupiter would be under extraordinary pressures. However, in 1976, before the Voyager missions, it was hypothesized[93][94] that ammonia– or water-based life, such as the so-called atmospheric beasts, could evolve in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. This hypothesis is based on the ecology of terrestrial seas which have simple photosynthetic plankton at the top level, fish at lower levels feeding on these creatures, and marine predators which hunt the fish. –wiki

There is another possibility, advanced life from another solar system may have settled in the Fomalhaut system, perhaps from the JabbaTheHaut system.

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