Astronomers have produced the first photograph of a planet outside our solar system, a world circling a star about 400 light-years away, according to a study to be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The planet, larger than any moving around our sun, orbits the star GQ Lupi every 1,200 years, said Ralph Neuhaeuser, director of the Astrophysical Institute and University Observatory in Jena, Germany. GQ Lupi is a star about 1 million to 2 million years old.
Planets outside Earth's solar system are difficult to photograph because the light from their parent stars blocks observations. Astronomers have had to use special techniques to detect the presence of these "extrasolar" planets.
Neuhaeuser and colleagues used pictures from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, taken between 1999 and September 2004, to produce the image.
It shows a distinct reddish-orange orb, with a white center, just to the right of the parent star. No surface details are visible. The planet is about 100 times the Earth-to-sun distance from its star.
The planet has a mass of about one to two times that of Jupiter and a temperature of about 2,000 degrees Celsius, Neuhaeuser said.