WATCH: Alien Worlds Circle Distant Star [GIF]
A team of astronomers, including Dr. Christian Marois from the National Research Council of Canada's Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, has been keeping track and taking still images of an alien system in the Pegasus constellation for the past seven years.
And, with the help of technology and a very able graduate student, everyone finally gets the chance to see exoplanets in action.
Jason Wang, a graduate student from the University of California in Berkley and a member of the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), compiled the photos from eight observations since 2009 and turned them into a GIF image using a motion interpolation algorithm.
"It's just really cool that we can watch planets orbit other stars, and awesome to see by eye Keplerian motion in action," Wang said.
HR 8799 Is A Young Star 5 Times Brighter Than Our Sun
The alien system can be found 125 light years away, and the star in the middle of the image is the relatively young — less than 60 million years old — HR 8799, which is actually five times brighter than our own sun.
The seeming darkness surrounding it in the photo is merely a method astronomers use to block out the brightness of the star to be able to see the four extroplanets revolving around the star.
As for the four exoplanets, they are all bigger than Milky Way's own Jupiter. In fact, they are so big that all four can be seen using one of the Keck telescopes in Hawaii's Mauna Kea observatory.
Take a look at the animated GIF below.
Readers would immediately notice that the revolution of the plants seem to be incomplete, but that is really all that astronomers have at the moment. The closest planet supposedly reaches a full circle around HR 8799 after 40 Earth years, while the farthest planet takes about 400 Earth years to complete one circle.
4 Exoplanets In Keplerian Motion
According to the astronomers, the four planets exhibit a Keplerian motion — an elliptical orbit — as they move at a 2-4-8 resonance around HR 8799.
"It's delightful that these recently discovered planets exhibit the same type of harmony exhibited by the Galilean moons, Io, Europa, and Ganymede (1:2:4) and illustrating some of the connections between our own solar system and those orbiting other stars," James Graham, leader of the Berkeley NExSS group, said.
The animated GIF is actually the second animated loop of an orbiting planet Wang made with Dr. Marois. The first one was from a series of images from the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) showing exoplanet Beta Pictoris B orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.
Wang expressed that they liked the result of the original animation and wanted to create something that had a bigger impact, leading him to creating the HR 8799 animation.