Observation of exoplanet suggests it's lightest example yet seen

June 3, 2013 at 4:04 PM   |   Comments

GARCHING, Germany, June 3 (UPI) -- A telescope in Chile has captured an image of what is likely the lightest exoplanet yet detected, astronomers with the European Southern Observatory report.

Although nearly a thousand exoplanets have been detected indirectly -- most using the transit method inferring their presence by changes in a parent star's light -- only a dozen exoplanets have been discerned directly, they said.

In the new observations, the likely planet appears as a faint but clear dot close to the star HD 95086, a release from ESO headquarters in Garching, Germany, said Monday.

It is slowly moving along with the star across the sky, suggesting it is in orbit around the star., and its brightness indicates it has a predicted mass of four to five times that of Jupiter, astronomers said.

"Direct imaging of planets is an extremely challenging technique that requires the most advanced instruments, whether ground-based or in space," Julien Rameau, first author of the paper announcing the discovery, said. "Only a few planets have been directly observed so far, making every single discovery an important milestone on the road to understanding giant planets and how they form."

The star and its orbiting planet are located about 300 light-years from the Earth.

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