A gas giant orbiting another star has been detected and photographed directly by astronomers. This is a real scientific feat, achieved through a combination of different exoplanet search techniques. HIP 99770B, that is its name, is about 15 times larger than Jupiter, the most massive planet of our solar system.
Stellar mapping data to identify suspicious orbits
Researchers analyzed a catalog of combined stellar mapping data from the European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia and Hipparcos missions. This technique identified stars that are likely to be orbiting giant stars and thus potentially visible. The scientists then used the Subaru National Astronomical Observatory telescope located on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to observe these suspect stars.
A major potential discovery for the search for exoplanets
The use of stellar mapping has allowed astronomers to know exactly where to look in subsequent telescope observations. This approach could lead to the discovery of additional exoplanets through direct imaging, including Earth-like planets. The images provided by this technique can gather information such as the composition of the atmosphere and the temperature around the planets. In addition, lead study author Thayne Currie said the discovery is “a kind of test case for the kind of strategy we need to image Earth.”
This discovery is especially important because detecting planets directly in this way is extremely difficult and represents only a handful of exoplanet discoveries. However, this indirect method sensitive to the gravitational attraction of a planet can help astronomers know where to look and when to look for direct images. This new technique could therefore be the key to discovering new exoplanets in the future.