This Is A Picture Of The Lightest Exoplanet Yet

Researchers have just released pictures of what is likely the smallest and lightest planet they have ever seen outside of our solar system, about 300 light years away from Earth.

The planet, dubbed HD95086 b, is about four or five times the mass of Jupiter, they believe. It is the lightest (mass-wise) planet to be directly observed outside of our solar system. They could even see the planet moving through the sky with its star, a sign that it is in orbit around the star.

The planet is twice as far from its star as Neptune is from our Sun. The surface of the planet is probably 1292 degrees Fahrenheit.

The findings were published today June 3, in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

You can see the planet as the blue blob here. The centre star shape is its star, and the blue circle is roughly the orbit of Neptune:

direct image of exoplanet HD95086 bThe white star in the middle is the system’s star, and the blue circle is the size of the orbit of Neptune in the Solar System. The blue blob is the planet, HD95086 b.

Researchers have found smaller planets in other system — even those about the mass of Earth and those in the habitable zone of their stars — but they do it using a technique based on light readings from the planet’s star, not by seeing the planet directly.

It’s difficult to see planets because they don’t give off their own light, and out in the expanse of space, the distance from the planet to the star is infinitesimally small, so any light reflected off the planet’s surface is easily overshadowed by the star itself.

“Only a few planets have been directly observed so far, making every single discovery an important milestone on the road to understanding giant planets and how they form,” study researcher Julien Rameau of the Institut de Planetologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble in France, said in a press release.

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