The European Southern Observatory’s very large telescope (ESO VLT) is the world’s first: the world’s first image of two giant exoplanets orbiting a young Sun-like star 300 light-years from our own. The photo can provide important information about the formation of our own solar system.
The innovative image – discussed in detail on the ESO website – has been described as “a snapshot of an environment very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage in its evolution”
As ESO explains, direct observations of exoplanets are extremely rare, but extremely important in the search for planets like ours that could support life. The representation of two exoplanets around the same star is even more remarkable, and capturing an image of two planets orbiting the sun is a unique achievement – the first in the world.
Here is the wide-angle image of the solar system in question:
And here’s a closer harvest:
The image was made possible by the SPHERE instrument of the Very Large Telescope, which uses a coronagraph to block bright light emitted by the star, allowing astronomers to detect and observe much paler planets around them.
The image shows a star that is very similar to our Sun, only far younger, in the upper left corner. The two exoplanets – gas giants that are several times larger than Jupiter – are the two bright spots in the middle and lower right of the image.
In particular, both planets are very far from their star: one orbits 160 times the Earth-Sun distance and the other about 320 times the Earth-Sun distance. But while this image does not show a system similar to ours today, scientists hope that images like this could shed some light on the early history of our solar system. For the rest of us, they are just amazing to watch and at least try to understand.
To learn more, check out the video explainer above, go to the ESO blog or read the full research paper for this image in Astrophysical journals,,
Image loans: All photos from ESO / Bohn et al.