Watch exoplanets orbit their star in new video

Watch exoplanets orbit their star in this stunning new video. There are 4 of them. See all 4?

Watch exoplanets orbit their star

Astronomer Jason Wang of Northwestern University released this new video on January 30, 2023. It shows 12 years of orbital motion in a time-lapse just seconds long. The four gas giant planets, all bigger than Jupiter, circle around their home star HR8799 at a distance of 133 light-years away. Scientists consider that within our solar neighborhood.

The world first got a glimpse of the stellar system HR8799 in 2008, when it became the subject of the first direct image of an extrasolar system family. And Wang has been observing this exoplanet system since 2008, using the W. M. Keck Observatory.

After seven years of data, in 2015, he created a video. Yet even now with 12 years of data, the video only captures a portion of an actual “year” for any of these distant exoplanets.

The fastest exoplanet in the group – the one closest to the star – takes 45 Earth-years to orbit once. And the farthest exoplanet in this system has a year equaling 500 Earth-years.

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Exoplanets on a human timescale

This star, and thus its planets, are just 30 million years old. Compare that to our sun’s age of 4.6 billion years. This young star – HR8799 – is 1.5 times as massive as the sun and about 5 times more luminous.

Wang said:

It’s usually difficult to see planets in orbit. For example, it isn’t apparent that Jupiter or Mars orbit our sun because we live in the same system and don’t have a top-down view. Astronomical events either happen too quickly or too slowly to capture in a movie. But this video shows planets moving on a human timescale.

I hope it enables people to enjoy something wondrous.

Learning more about the exoplanets

Wang is studying the light from the system to learn more about the properties of the star and exoplanets. He said:

There’s nothing to be gained scientifically from watching the orbiting systems in a time lapse video. But it helps others appreciate what we’re studying. It can be difficult to explain the nuances of science with words. But showing science in action helps others understand its importance.

In astrophysics, most of the time we are doing data analysis or testing hypotheses. But this is the fun part of science. It inspires awe.

It surely does. And it’s wonderful to know that, as we stand outside under a starry sky, this distant system – HR8799 – and its four exoplanets are up there, over our heads. They lie in the direction of the constellation Pegasus, overhead in early evening in our early February sky.

Watch exoplanets orbit: Four white dots circle around a central star blocked by a dark spot.
See the 4 white dots circling in their orbits around a central star? A black mask blocks the star’s light. That’s how we can these exoplanets orbiting their star, from our distance of 133 light-years away. This video was 12 years in the making. But it captures only a portion of an actual “year” for any of these distant worlds. The fastest one in the group – the one closest to the star – takes 45 Earth-years to orbit once. And the farthest one has a year equalling 500 Earth-years. Image via Jason Wang/ Northwestern University.

Bottom line: You can watch four exoplanets orbit their home star in this new video from Jason Wang of Northwestern University.

Via Northwestern University

February 1, 2023

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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