The European Southern Observatory has released the first image ever captured by a telescope of multiple planets orbiting around a sun-like star, just like our solar system.
The ESO said Wednesday that its Extremely Large Telescope set up in Chile’s Atacama Desert took the image.
The researchers said the newly discovered solar system is 300 light-years away, relatively close by galactic standards. They said the star is officially known as TYC 8998-760-1 and located in the Musca, or Fly, constellation. They have determined it is barely 17 million years old — a youngster compared to our sun, which is believed to be 4.5 billion years old.
Research behind the discovery was published Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Lead researcher Alexander Bohn of Leiden University said what makes the discovery so exciting is that the star is “a very young version of our sun.” He said it provides “a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system but at a much earlier stage of its evolution.”
Bohn said the observations can help scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system. Taking direct images, he said, provides the best chance to detect life outside our solar system, if it exists.
He said that in observing light from the planets themselves, “the atmospheres can be analyzed for molecules and elements that might suggest life.”
Astronomers typically confirm worlds around other stars by observing brief but periodic dimming of the starlight, indicating an orbiting planet. Such indirect observations have identified thousands of planets in our Milky Way galaxy.
The ESO is considered the world's most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by a consortium of European nations and Chile, as well as other member nations.
Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.