ARCHIVED - Astronomers capture first images of another solar system

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November 13, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC astronomer Dr. Christian Marois and an international team of researchers are the first to capture images of three planets circling a star other than the Earth's Sun.

Using high-powered telescopes to capture these images, the team then identified three planets larger than Jupiter orbiting a star known as HR 8799. This star is 130 light years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus. It is faintly visible to the naked eye.

"We have known for a decade through indirect techniques that the Sun was not the only star to have planets in orbit around it," said Dr. Marois of the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, B.C. "We finally have an actual image of an entire solar system. This is a milestone in the search for planetary systems around stars."

HR 8799 - this star is 130 light years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus.
HR 8799 - this star is 130 light years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus.

A team of Canadian, U.S. and British astronomers used the Gemini North and Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii to capture infrared images of the planets. The images were confirmed using advanced instrumentation and image-processing technology.

HR 8799 is about 1.5 times the mass of the Sun. It is also much brighter and significantly younger. Astronomers estimate the star is about 60 million years old.

"It's amazing to have a picture showing not one but three planets," said Dr. Bruce Macintosh, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a project collaborator. "The discovery of the HR 8799 system is a crucial step on the road to the ultimate imaging of another Earth."

Ultimately, astronomers are working towards images and spectroscopic studies of truly Earth-like planets, but that will require specialized space telescopes that are still on the drawing board.

For images of this discovery, please visit: www.gemini.edu/threeplanetart.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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