This year's most exciting astronomical photo - HR 8799

Monday, December 13, 2010

For me this is probably this year's most exciting astronomical photo:

A direct image of four planets around the star HR 8799, kind of like this image from 2008 but with more than one. This is but one step away from what I consider to be the holy grail of exoplanet imaging, namely the direct imaging of a planet at just high enough resolution that anyone can make something out besides just a dot. The first one we image in this manner will end up looking something like this:

That's actually Neptune, but this is somewhere along the lines of what our first exoplanetary gas giant at high resolution will look like. Given how attached we are to things we can see even the fact that it's a gas giant will do nothing to lessen the impact of when such an image is released.

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