Thursday, November 13, 2008
Fly Me to Formalhaut
Scientists in Vancouver, BC, and Berkeley, Calif., have found the first solid, we-really-see-them planets in the galaxy. Orbiting Fomalhaut and a star pitifully named HR 8799, 25 and 130 light years from earth, respectively, the four planets are the first to actually be seen rather than just inferred based on dips in starlight and/or wobbles in their suns' or nearby bodies' orbits. They are big -- from 3-10 times as large as Jupiter.
According to the New York Times article discussing the discovery: "Both systems appear to be scaled-up versions of our own solar system, with giant planets in the outer reaches, leaving plenty of room for smaller planets to lurk undetected in the warmer inner regions. Dust rings lie even farther out, like the Kuiper belt of icy debris extending beyond the orbit of Neptune."
The two teams discovered the planets using the Hubble Telescope and the telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Stuff like this makes me wish I had been an astronomer, which would have been possible except for the simple facts that I am a math moron and I hate night work.