From ESO: “ESO’s SPHERE Unveils its First Exoplanet”

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European Southern Observatory

6 July 2017
Gaël Chauvin
Institut de Planetologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG)
BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
+33 6 4551 8209
gael.chauvin@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

Jean-Luc Beuzit
Institut de Planetologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG)
BP 53, 38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France
+33 6 8739 6285
jean-luc.beuzit@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
rhook@eso.org

1
One of the most challenging and exciting areas of astronomy today is the search for exoplanets — other worlds orbiting other stars. The exoplanet HIP 65426b has recently been discovered using the SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Some 385 light-years from us, HIP 65426b is the first planet that SPHERE has found [1] — and it turns out to be a particularly interesting one.

ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO SPHERE extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the VLT, Cerro Paranal, Chile, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

The planet is warm (between 1000 and 1400 degrees Celsius), and is between six and twelve times the mass of Jupiter. It seems to have a very dusty atmosphere filled with thick cloud, and it orbits a hot, young star that rotates surprisingly fast. Unusually, given its age, the star does not appear to be surrounded by a disc of debris, and the absence of a disc raises puzzling questions about how the planet formed in the first place. The planet may have been formed in a disc of gas and dust and when the disc rapidly dissipated, it interacted with other planets to move to a more distant orbit, where we see it now. Alternatively, the star and the planet may have formed together as a binary system in which the more massive component prevented the other would-be star from accumulating sufficient matter to actually become a star. The planet’s discovery gives astronomers the opportunity to study the composition and location of clouds in its atmosphere, and to test theories of the formation, evolution, and physics of exoplanets.

SPHERE is a powerful planet finder installed on Unit Telescope 3 of the VLT. Its science goal is to detect and study new giant exoplanets around nearby stars using the direct imaging method [2]. This method aims to directly capture images of exoplanets and debris discs around stars, rather like taking a photograph. Direct imaging is difficult because the light of a star is so powerful that the feeble light reflected by orbiting planets is overwhelmed by the starlight. But SPHERE is cleverly designed to bypass this obstacle and to look specifically for the polarised light reflected off a planet’s surface.

This image was captured as part of a survey programme called SHINE (SpHere INfrared survey for Exoplanets). SHINE aims to image 600 young nearby stars in the near-infrared using SPHERE’s high contrast and high angular resolution to discover and characterise new planetary systems and explore how they formed.

Notes

[1] A previous ESO press release reported an earlier SPHERE observation that was interpreted as a planet. However, that interpretation has been called into doubt and so HIP 65426b is currently the first reliable detection of an exoplanet by SPHERE.

[2] When scouring the Universe for exoplanets, astronomers have numerous tools at their disposal. Many planet detection methods are indirect — astronomers can detect the tell-tale dip in a star’s brightness when a planet transits across its face, or measure the tiny wobble in a star’s motion caused by the gravitational tug of any orbiting planets.

Planet transit. NASA/Ames

However, there is a more direct method of finding an exoplanet: direct imaging.

See the full article here .

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ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

ESO LaSilla
ESO/Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO VLT
VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO Vista Telescope
ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO NTT
ESO/NTT at Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO VLT Survey telescope
VLT Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ALMA Array
ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres

ESO E-ELT
ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m

ESO APEX
APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert

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