A sharp new photo released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) today (June 3) depicts the suspected gas giant (called HD 95086 b) circling its young star (named HD 95086) in infrared light. The star has been removed from the image to allow the planet — shown as a bright blue dot at the bottom left of the picture — to shine through.
HD 95086 b was sighted by ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile. Based on the planet's brightness, scientists estimate that it is only about four or five times more massive than Jupiter.
Most exoplanets are discovered via indirect means, such as detecting a dip in a star's light when a planet passes in front of it, blocking part of its face, or finding a slight wobble in a star's movement caused by the gravitational tug of planets orbiting it.
"Direct imaging of planets is an extremely challenging technique that requires the most advanced instruments, whether ground-based or in space," Julien Rameau, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics and Planetology in France and lead author of the study announcing the discovery, said in a statement. "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."
Another photo from ESO shows the star and its planet in context with other stars in the southern constellation of Carina, the keel.
The planet orbits its star at about twice the distance from the sun to Neptune and about 56 times the distance between Earth and the sun. The blue circle in the photo represents the distance between the sun and Neptune.
HD 95086 is relatively young star at only 10 million to 17 million years old, making the formation of the exoplanet and the dusty disc surrounding the star potentially intriguing to researchers.