First image of a planet around another star

From today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:


The description from APOD:

Explanation: Fomalhaut (sounds like “foam-a-lot”) is a bright, young, star, a short 25 light-years from planet Earth in the direction of the constellation Piscis Austrinus. In this sharp composite from the Hubble Space Telescope, Fomalhaut’s surrounding ring of dusty debris is imaged in detail, with overwhelming glare from the star masked by an occulting disk in the camera’s coronagraph. Astronomers now identify, the tiny point of light in the small box at the right as a planet about 3 times the mass of Jupiter orbiting 10.7 billion miles from the star (almost 14 times the Sun-Jupiter distance). Designated Fomalhaut b, the massive planet probably shapes and maintains the ring’s relatively sharp inner edge, while the ring itself is likely a larger, younger analog of our own Kuiper Belt – the solar system’s outer reservoir of icy bodies. The Hubble data represent the first visible-light image of a planet circling another star.

Grace and peace

2 thoughts on “First image of a planet around another star

  1. Matt Strid

    Kevin, I read the AP article on this on friday…apparently you did as well.

    I think reasonable people can grasp that other stars can have planets. I’m enjoying our exploration of the universe from our safe bubble here on Earth. But there were several quotes from the article that I need a scientist to interpret for me.

    First “It’s only a matter of time before ‘we get a dot that’s blue and Earthlike,’ said astronomer Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.”

    Are the odds really in our favor to find another planet like ours? While God certainly can create whatever he wants – the vastness of the universe seems to preclude our ever being able to see it…maybe this is more of an issue for a Mathematician. It seems people like Peter Ward, Donald Brownlee and Guillermo Gonzalez think its unlikely. What do you think?

    Second Quote: “The planet is only about 200 million years old, a baby compared to the more than 4 billion-year-old planets in our solar system.”

    How does the science work to ascertain the age of a recently discovered planet that is 767 trillion miles from earth?


  2. geochristian


    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree that Ward and Brownlee (and Gonzalez) make a strong case for the “rare Earth” hypothesis. They advocate that finding a planet like Earth, complete with complex life, is a rare, or even unique, occurrence in the universe. On the other hand, “simple” life, on the order of bacteria, could be quite common in the universe, but places like Mars or Europa don’t qualify as the “blue dot” that these guys are looking for.

    Not all scientists, of course, buy into the rare Earth hypothesis. There is, in my mind, no theological/Biblical reason why the universe could not be teeming with life. I wrote a bit about this in September; click here.

    As far as the age of the planet goes, it cannot be older than the star it is orbiting. Fomalhaut is probably about 200-300 million years old, and has enough fuel to burn until it is about a billion years old. Astronomers make these age estimates using models based on the star’s composition and surface temperature, as well as other factors. The models could be wrong, but based on what we know about nuclear processes, the age estimates seem to be valid.



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