Friday, November 14, 2008

First direct image of an exoplanet?

The popular science news is giving heavy coverage to the claims (pretty persuasive claims) of the first direct imaging of approximately Jupiter-mass exoplanet orbiting the young star Fomalhaut - see SciAm, Newswise or the NYT, or read the Hubble Space Telescope press release.

Of course, this is not the first claim of a direct image of an exoplanet - back in 1999 a team of British astronomers (including Dave James, a former PhD colleague of mine from Birmingham) claimed to detect a 8 Jupiter mass planet orbiting Tau Bootis (see their old press release here). The presence of a planet orbiting Tau Bootis had previously (Butler et al 1997) been inferred using radial velocity measurements, but the imaging detection turned out to be false.

By the way, is a pretty neat site if you're interested in nearby stars and planets.

For those interested in technical details, the team involved with the Fomalhaut imaging detection posted the following observational and theoretical papers on todays astro-ph:

Optical Images of an Exosolar Planet 25 Light Years from Earth
Paul Kalas, James R. Graham, Eugene Chiang, Michael P. Fitzgerald, Mark Clampin, Edwin S. Kite, Karl Stapelfeldt, Christian Marois, John Krist,
Comments: 25 pages; 4 tables; 4 figures. To appear in Science November 13, 2008

Fomalhaut's Debris Disk and Planet: Constraining the Mass of Fomalhaut b From Disk Morphology
E. Chiang, E. Kite, P. Kalas, J. R. Graham, M. Clampin

Comments: Accepted to the Astrophysical Journal, 17 pages, 11 figures. Companion theory paper to Science discovery paper. See the movie at this http URL

[Update @ 10:38AM: Added links to the astro-ph versions of the Fomalhaut papers.]

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