Extrasolar planets or for short exoplanets have been found in orbit around many different star systems other than ours. Exoplanets are being found all the time but take a look at this database of exoplanets for an idea on their characteristics.
An actual image has been shot sometime back of an exoplanet but as you can see you might as well be looking at a pixel on a TV screen or computer which is not that exciting. When thinking about exoplanets artists minds have gone wild and lots of pictures of imaginary exoplanets have been created to fill this imaginary void.
The image was taken by the Hubble space telescope by blocking out the stars light so that the exoplanet could be seen. The star is Formalhaut which is easily visible to the unaided eye. The exoplanet is called Formalhaut b. Not a fantastic name but it means it is a planet around the star Formalhaut the b meaning that it is the planet closest to the Sun. This system letters the planets from the inner to the outer but letter a is not used.
The image below has been directly taken of two planets (labelled B and C) orbiting the star HR8799 by the Gemini North eight meter telescope. You can see from the picture that the Starlight has been blocked allowing us to see the two white dots which are the planets. The star is about 130 ly away but is very bright. The planets are orbiting the star at 3.6 billion miles and 6.3 billion miles respectively. A third planet was found later on but is not shown in the image. This is the first planetary system to be directly imaged.
Here are some artist renderings of the star GJ876 (Gliese) and its outer planets which have masses of 2.5 and 0.8 that of Jupiter. Don’t forget that one Jupiter mass is about 318 Earth masses and therefore these are huge planets. The inner planet which is a little like ours but a lot bigger is thought to have a mass about 7.5 Earth masses. In the exoplanet scientific circles it is called a super Earth and may well contain life.
An artist rendering of a close-up of the Earth like planet around GJ876.
Could we be in orbit around GJ876′s earthlike planet one-day?
Here’s a fly through of the Gliese planetary system. It’s a little old but gives an idea of what the system is probably like.
lots of Jupiter like planets have been found around other stars. They have been given the nickname hot Jupiter’s because they orbit so close to their parent star. These were the most likely type of planets to be found as they are so huge. It is thought that these planets may have migrated from the outer part of their planetary system eventually forming a very tight orbit with its star.
One day we will not need artist renderings as a probe will transmit actual images back to us but hopefully by a method that doesn’t take thousands of years!