Telescope Nabs Astonishing Image of Planet Orbiting Star Pair

While planets orbiting binary star systems are nothing new—although still awesome and very sci-fi—astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have recently captured a direct image of a planet from the hottest and most massive planet-hosting star pair in the known universe. And the planet, like its host star-pair, is absolutely gigantic—at ten times the mass of Jupiter.

An illustration of a planet orbiting the most massive planet-hosting star pair astronomers are aware of.
ESO/L. Calçada

PetaPixel reported on the new, direct image of the massive planet orbiting around a binary star pair. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) imaged the planet orbiting b Centauri; a two-star system that’s approximately 325 light-years from Earth yet so large skywatchers can see it with the naked eye.

The star system is in the constellation Centaurus and it has at least six times the mass of the Sun; making it far and away the most massive star system around which a planet has been discovered. Astronomers using the VLT spotted the giant orbiting planet swinging around its parent stars at a distance 100 times that of the distance between the Sun and Jupiter.

A direct image of a large planet orbiting the massive star system, b Centauri, approximately 325 light-years from Earth.
ESO/Janson et al.

“Finding a planet around b Centauri [is] very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars as planet hosts,” Markus Janson said in an ESO press release. Janson, an astronomer at Stockholm University in Sweden and first author of the study outlining the new planet image published in the journal Nature, added, “B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments, so [astronomers] believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them.”

Like most other massive stars b Centauri is also especially hot. The system’s larger, main star is a B-type star—that is, a star between two and 16 times the mass of the Sun—and has a surface three times hotter than the Sun’s. Thanks to its intense temperature, b Centauri also emits large amounts of UV and X-ray radiation.

While the picture at top is an artist’s illustration of the planet, b Centauri b, the one below that is the direct VLT image. The planet is the bright dot in the lower right of the frame (with the white arrow). The other bright dot in the image (top right) is a background star. And that big Sauron’s Eye looking thing in the upper-left-hand corner? That’s the massive star pair. Although the bright and dark rings around it are only optical artifacts. Not, as we were hoping, a glimpse of elusive dark matter caught with its guard down.

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