The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope captured the first-ever image of a sun-like star surrounded by two planets. Photo by ESO/Bohn et al.
July 22 (UPI) -- For the first time ever, astronomers have captured images of a multi-planet system featuring a sun-like star, according to study published Tuesday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Photographs of the star, TYC 8998-760-1, were captured using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. Observations of the sun-like star, located 300 light-years from Earth, revealed the presence of two giant exoplanets.
"This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution," Alexander Bohn, doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said in a news release.
Though astronomers have identified thousands of exoplanets, few have been directly imaged. Planetary systems with two or more exoplanets have been directly imaged twice before, but both featured stars quite different from the sun, researchers said.
The two massive exoplanets found by astronomers follow wide, long orbits around the star. The planets are situated farther from their host star than Jupiter or Saturn are from the sun.
The closet of the two is 160 times farther away from its star than Earth is from the sun. The farthest of the two planets is located 320 Earth-sun distances from TYC 8998-760-1.
Both exoplanets are significantly larger than the gas giants found in our own solar system, researchers report. The inner exoplanet is 14 times Jupiter's mass, while the outer exoplanet is six times more massive than Jupiter.
Astronomers were able to directly observe the two massive exoplanets using the Very Large Telescope's SPHERE instrument. SPHERE uses a coronagraph to block the brightest light from faraway stars, revealing the faint glow of distant exoplanets.
Scientists used SPHERE to observe the two giant exoplanets over the course of a year, and compared their data with past observations, in order to confirm the relationship between the two worlds and TYC 8998-760-1.
In the future, scientists hope similar investigations will be powered by an even more robust version of SPHERE.
"The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT, will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own solar system," Bohn said.