ESO’s telescope photographs the planet around most masses

image: This image shows the most massive star pair to host planets to date, b Centauri, and its giant planet b Centauri b. This is the first time that astronomers have directly observed a planet orbiting such a massive and hot pair of stars. The star pair, which has a total mass of at least six times that of the Sun, is the bright object in the upper left corner of the image, with the bright and dark rings surrounding it being optical artifacts. The planet, visible as a bright spot in the lower right of the frame, is ten times more massive than Jupiter and the pair orbits 100 times the distance Jupiter orbits the Sun. The other bright spot in the image (top right) is a star in the background. By taking different images at different times, astronomers were able to distinguish the planet from background stars. The image was captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope and using a coronograph, which blocked light from the massive star system and allowed astronomers to detect the faint planet.
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Credit: ESO / Janson et al.

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) captured an image of a planet orbiting Centauri, a two-star system that can be seen with the naked eye. It is the hottest and most massive star system hosting planets found to date, and the planet has been spotted orbiting it 100 times the distance Jupiter orbits the Sun. Some astronomers believed that planets couldn’t exist around such massive and hot stars – until now.

Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting as it completely changes the image of massive stars as hosts of the planet“says Markus Janson, astronomer at Stockholm University, Sweden and first author of the new study published online today in Nature.

Located about 325 light years away in the constellation Centauri, the two-star system b Centauri (also known as HIP 71865) has at least six times the mass of the Sun, making it by far the most massif around which a planet has been confirmed. Until now, no planet has been spotted around a star more than three times as massive as the Sun.

Most massive stars are also very hot, and this system is no exception: its main star is a so-called type B star that is more than three times hotter than the Sun. Due to its intense temperature, it emits large amounts of ultraviolet radiation and X-rays.

The large mass and heat of this type of star has a strong impact on the surrounding gas, which should oppose the formation of the planets. In particular, the hotter a star, the more high-energy radiation it produces, which accelerates the evaporation of surrounding matter. “Type B stars are generally considered to be quite destructive and dangerous environments, so it was believed that it should be extremely difficult to form large planets around them.“says Janson.

But the new discovery shows that planets can actually form in such severe star systems. “The planet in b Centauri is an alien world in a completely different environment from what we experience here on Earth and in our solar system,Explains co-author Gayathri Viswanath, a doctoral student at Stockholm University. “It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are greater.

Indeed, the discovered planet, named b Centauri (AB) b or b Centauri b, is also extreme. It is 10 times more massive than Jupiter, making it one of the most massive planets ever discovered. In addition, it moves around the star system in one of the widest orbits ever discovered, at a distance 100 times the distance from Jupiter to the Sun. This great distance from the central pair of stars could be the key to the survival of the planet.

These results were made possible by the sophisticated Spectro-Polarimetric High Contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument mounted on ESO’s VLT in Chile. SPHERE has already successfully imaged several planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, including taking the very first image of two planets orbiting a Sun-like star.

However, SPHERE was not the first instrument to image this planet. As part of their study, the team looked at archival data on the Centauri b system and found that the planet was in fact imaged over 20 years ago by the 3.6m telescope at l ‘ESO, although it was not recognized as a planet at the time. .

With ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) set to begin observations later this decade, and with upgrades to the VLT, astronomers may be able to unravel more about the formation and characteristics of this planet. . “It will be an intriguing task to try to figure out how this could have formed, which is a mystery at the moment”, Janson concludes.

More information

This research was featured in an article titled “A Giant Wide Orbiting Planet in the High Mass Binary System b Centauri” to appear in Nature (DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-021-04124-8).

The team is made up of Markus Janson (Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University, Sweden [SU]), Raffaele Gratton (INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Italy [INAF-Padova]), Laetitia Rodet (Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, Department of Astronomy, Cornell University, USA), Arthur Vigan (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, CNES, Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France [LAM]), Mickaël Bonnefoy (Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Institute of Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics, France [IPAG] and LAM), Philippe Delorme (IPAG), Eric E. Mamajek (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, USA [JPL]), Sabine Reffert (Landessternwarte, Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg, Germany [ZAH]), Lukas Stock (ZAH and IPAG), Gabriel-Dominique Marleau (Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Universität Tübingen, Germany; Physikalisches Institut, Universität Bern, Switzerland [UNIBE]; Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), Maud Langlois (Astrophysical Research Center of Lyon [CRAL], CNRS, Université Lyon, France), Gaël Chauvin (Unidad Mixta Internacional Franco-Chilena de Astronomía, CNRS / INSU et Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile, and Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics, Grenoble, France), Silvano Desidera (INAF-Padova), Simon Ringqvist (SU), Lucio Mayer (Center for Theoretical Physics and Cosmology, Institute for Computational Science, University of Zurich, Switzerland [CTAC]), Gayathri Viswanath (SU), Vito Squicciarini (INAF-Padua, Department of Physics and Astronomy “Galileo Galilei”, University of Padua, Italy), Michael R. Meyer (Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan, USA United), Matthias Samland (SU and MPIA), Simon Petrus (IPAG), Ravit Helled (CTAC), Matthew A. Kenworthy (Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Netherlands), Sascha P. Quanz (ETH Zurich, Institute for Particle Physics and Astrophysics, Switzerland [ETH Zurich]), Beth Biller (Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, Institute for Astronomy, Royal Observatory, University of Edinburgh, UK), Thomas Henning (MPIA), Dino Mesa (INAF-Padova), Natalia Engler (ETH Zurich), Joseph C. Carson ( College of Charleston, Department of Physics and Astronomy, United States).

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) enables scientists around the world to discover the secrets of the Universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class ground-based observatories – which astronomers use to address exciting questions and spread the fascination of astronomy – and promote international collaboration in astronomy. Founded as an intergovernmental organization in 1962, ESO is today supported by 16 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom), as well as the host state of Chile and Australia as a strategic partner. ESO Headquarters and its Visitor Center and Planetarium, ESO Supernova, are located near Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a wonderful place with unique conditions for sky-gazing, is home to our telescopes. ESO operates three observation sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as two surveying telescopes, VISTA working in infrared and the VLT Survey Telescope in visible light. Also in Paranal, ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. In collaboration with international partners, ESO operates APEX and ALMA on Chajnantor, two facilities that observe the sky in the millimeter and submillimeter range. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building “the world’s largest eye in the sky” – ESO’s extremely large telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile, we support our operations in the country and collaborate with Chilean partners and society.



Markus Janson
Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University
Stockholm, Sweden
Phone. : +46 8-553 785 48

Gayatri Viswanath
Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University
Stockholm, Sweden

Matthias samland
Max Planck Institute of Astronomy
Heidelberg, Germany

Gael Chauvin
Unidad Mixta Internacional Franco-Chilena de Astronomía, Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, and Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble
Santiago / Grenoble, Chile / France

Raphael Gratton
INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova
Padua, Italy
Phone. : +39 049 8293442

Sascha Quanz
ETH Zurich, Institute for Particle Physics and Astrophysics
Zurich, Switzerland
Phone. : +39 049 8293442

Beth biller
Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, Institute of Astronomy, Royal Observatory, University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Matthew Kenworthy
Leiden Observatory, University of Leiden
Leiden, Netherlands
Phone. : +31 64 172 0331

Barbara ferreira
ESO Media Manager
Garching bei Munich, Germany
Phone. : +49 89 3200 6670
Cellular: +49 151 241 664 00

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