Saturday, November 15, 2008
Fomalhaut b. It's the first visible light image of an extrasolar planet. Though it's just a speck in this image, it's an incredible milestone. Fomalhaut itself is one of the brightest stars in the sky, located about twenty-five light years from earth in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. I'm not sure the toroidal dust disk surrounding Fomalhaut, imaged here, really counts as a nebula, as such; being apparently an analog of the Kuiper belt surrounding the Sun. However, this is such a cool discovery that bending the definition to be sure it's included in this feature seems perfectly justified. The sharp definition of the inner boundary of the cloud was one of the clues that led to the conclusion that there was a planet here to be found. The planet itself is thought to be three times the size of Jupiter, with a much larger ring system than Saturn - which might, in fact be what was actually imaged here.
This is an APOD image. Click away.