Cool image time! Astronomers have used the Gemini Telescope on Mauna Kea to take the clearest image yet of a Jupiter-sized gas giant orbiting another star 96 light years away.
Once the astronomers zeroed in on the star, they blocked its light and spotted 51 Eri b orbiting a little farther away from its parent star than Saturn does from the sun. The light from the planet is very faint — more than one million times fainter than its star – but GPI can see it clearly. Observations revealed that it is roughly twice the mass of Jupiter. Other directly imaged planets are five times the mass of Jupiter or more. In addition to being the lowest-mass planet ever imaged, it’s also the coldest — about 800 degrees Fahrenheit — and features the strongest atmospheric methane signal on record. Previous Jupiter-like exoplanets have shown only faint traces of methane, far different from the heavy methane atmospheres of the gas giants in our solar system.
All of these characteristics, the researchers say, point to a planet that is very much what models suggest Jupiter was like in its infancy.
The exoplanet is the bright spot near the bottom of the image.