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Direct look at a small exoplanet

Nature volume 524, page 268 (20 August 2015) | Download Citation

Astronomers have snapped a picture of a planet like those in the Solar System but orbiting another star — the lowest-mass exoplanet ever directly imaged.

Image: Danielle Futselaar/Franck Marchis/SETI Inst.

Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University in California and his team used the Gemini Planet Imager at the Gemini South Telescope in Chile to photograph the planet orbiting 51 Eridani, a young star 30 parsecs from Earth. The planet (artist's impression pictured) is roughly twice the mass of Jupiter and farther away from its star than Saturn is from the Sun, but is comparatively closer than Uranus.

Spectroscopic analysis of light from the planet revealed strong hints of methane in its atmosphere — similar to that found in the giant planets of the Solar System.

Science (2015)

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