Thursday, November 13, 2008

The first image of a planet outside our solar system

The first picture of a planet outside our solar system has been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The image shows a planet, known as Fomalhaut b, which is about the size of Jupiter and could have a ring system.

It is buried in a dust belt surrounding the star Fomalhaut.

The planet's existence has been known since 2005 based on gravitational pulls in the area but this is the first time it has been pictured.

Astronomer Dr Paul Kalas, from the University of California at Berkeley, who led the discovery, said: "It's a profound and overwhelming experience to lay eyes on a planet never seen before."

Even using Hubble's "starshade" or coronograph to reduce a star's glare, the planet would have remained hidden had it not been in such a wide orbit.

Fomalhaut is around 200 million years old and 16 times brighter than the Sun. It will burn out in about a billion years, making it a very short-lived star.

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