For the first time ever, a multi-planet system orbiting a sun-like star has been photographed by astronomers. The photograph, which was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (or VLT) in Chile, shows two massive planets orbiting a young sun-like star called TYC 8998-760-1. The system is located approximately 300 light-years away from us.
The 17 million-year-old sun-like star was analyzed by astronomers using the VLT’s Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research instrument (or SPHERE) that allowed them to study the orbiting planets. While they already knew that the planet TYC 8998-760-1b existed, TYC 8998-760-1c has only been recently identified.
And these planets are huge as TYC 8998-760-1b is around 14 times larger than Jupiter and orbits at an average distance of 160 astronomical units (AU) from its star, while TYC 8998-760-1c is about 6 times more massive than Jupiter and orbits at a distance of 320 AU. To get a better understanding of the distance, one AU is about the average distance as Earth is to our sun (93 million miles). Interestingly, Jupiter orbits our sun at a distance of 5 AU while Saturn orbits at 10 AU. It’s still unknown whether these two planets were pushed away from their sun or if they were formed where they are currently orbiting.
Alexander Bohn, who is a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands and an author of the study, said in a statement, “This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution.”
Prior to this recent photograph, there have been two other images captured of multi-planet systems, however, neither of them contained a sun-like star, so this new photo is definitely a fascinating never-before-seen accomplishment. Matthew Kenworthy, who is an associate professor at Leiden University and another author of the study, added that while thousands of exoplanets have already been discovered, only a small percentage of them have ever been photographed. The picture that the astronomers took of the two planets orbiting TYC 8998-760-1 can be seen here.
There are still questions that remain unanswered such as whether there are more than two planets orbiting TYC 8998-760-1. Bohn addressed this very question by stating, “The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT, will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own solar system.”