In an interesting “battle” of definitions, this is either the first visible light  image of a planet orbiting a nearby star, 1RXS J160929.1-210524, or the third.

This is an image taken in 2005, of a planet called 2M1207b.  It’s about 5 times Jupiter’s mass, and is orbiting a blue dwarf star 230 light years away.  Some don’t consider the blue dwarf to be a “Sun-like” star, so the quibble about ‘first planet seen in visible light orbiting a nearby star’.  The image was taken using Chile’s Very Large Telescope.

This image of Fomalhautb was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.  It shows a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut, a star hotter and more massive than the Sun.  Taken in 2004, a confirming photo was taken in 2006.  It took two years of study after the second photo to confirm the planet was really a planet and not something simply in the same frame, not related to the star.

In the first image above,  star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 is 500 light years from Earth, and was photographed using Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, in 2008.  It wins the “first planet orbiting a sun-like star using a ground based telescope” designation, and “third planet orbiting a nearby star seen in visible light”.

Whatever the “details”, and regardless of how the press correctly or erroneously hypes it, it’s still another great moment in geek (and science!)

For a deeper explanation, by someone actually involved in the field, see Bad Astronomy Blog. Don’t worry, it’s not all science “greek” incomprehensible stuff,  astronomer Phil Plait makes it understandable to the general reader.  Go see!

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