SPACE.com Space.com Staff

space.com – 44 mins ago

Astronomers say they have taken the first direct image of a planet-like object orbiting a star much like our own sun.


A similar breakthrough was announced last year, when astronomers unveiled direct images of a single-planet and multiple-planet system. However, the host stars of such systems are stellar giants that are much more massive than the sun.


The images of this newly identified object were taken in May and August during early test runs of a new planet-hunting instrument on the Hawaii-based Subaru Telescope.


The object called GJ 758 B orbits a parent star that is comparable in mass and temperature to our own sun, said study team member Michael McElwain of Princeton University. The star lies 300 trillion miles (480 trillion km), or about 50 light-years, from Earth.


Scientists aren't sure if the object is a large planet or a brown dwarf, a cosmic misfit also known as a failed star. They estimate its mass to be 10 to 40 times that of Jupiter. Objects above 13 Jupiters (and below the mass needed to ignite nuclear reactions in stars) are considered to be brown dwarfs.


Either way, McElwain says the image is exciting.

"Brown dwarf companions to solar-type stars are extremely rare," he told SPACE.com. "It's exciting to find something that is so cool and so low mass with a separation similar to our solar system around a nearby star."


The planet-like object is currently at least 29 times as far from its star as the Earth is from the sun, or about the distance between the sun and Neptune.

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The direct image of GJ 758 B (circled as B) was taken with the Subaru Telescope's HiCIAO instrument in the near infrared. An unconfirmed companion planet or planet-like object, C, can be viewed above B. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan