Watch an exoplanet orbiting its star for 17 years

Madrid, August 10 (European Press) –

A Northwestern University astrophysicist has created the longest time-lapse video of an exoplanet to date, It spans 17 years around its star.

built from real data, screenshots It shows Beta Pictoris b, a planet about 12 times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting its star in an inclined orbit. The time-lapse video condenses 17 years of footage (collected between 2003 and 2020) into 10 seconds. in those seconds, Viewers can watch the planet make about 75% of its full orbit.

“We need another six years of data before we can see a full orbit,” he said. It’s a statement Northwestern astrophysicist Jason Wang, who led the work. “We’re almost there. Patience is the key.”

An expert in imaging exoplanets, Wang is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Exploration in Astrophysics (CIERA). Late last year, Wang introduced 12-year time-lapse video A family of four outer planets orbiting its star.

Beta Pictoris b is a massive planet located about 63 light-years from Earth. in the constellation Pictor. The distance between Beta Pictoris and its star (Beta Pictoris) is about 10 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. Compared to our Sun, Beta Pictoris is 1.75 times larger and 8.7 times brighter. It’s also very young: it’s only 20-26 million years old.

When Beta Pictoris b was first photographed in 2003, Its size and brightness made it easy to spotcompared to other outer planets.

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It’s so bright, Wang said. That’s why it’s one of the first exoplanets discovered and directly imaged. It’s so big that it borders on a planet and a brown dwarf, It is more massive than the planets.

Wang began tracking an exoplanet years ago, and built his system’s first time sequence to show five years of its journey. To get the updated and longer version of the interval, Wang asked Malachi Noel, a student at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, for help. Noel spent the summer of 2022 as a member of the CIERA Research Experiences in Astronomy for High School Students (REACH) program. Then, as a REACH graduate, Noel began working under Wang during January 2023.

Noel used AI-powered image-processing techniques to uniformly analyze archival image data from three instruments: one at the Gemini Observatory and two at the European Southern Observatory. After Noel has processed the data uniformly, Wang used a computational technique called interstitial motion to fill in the gaps and create a continuous video.. Otherwise, the exoplanet would hop around instead of spinning smoothly through space.

“If we just combine the images, the video will look really strained because we haven’t been able to see the system every day for 17 years,” Wang said.

Because of the long time interval, There was great variability among the datasets, which required frequent adaptations in image processing“I really enjoyed working with data,” said Noel. “While it’s too early to know for sure, astrophysics is definitely a career that I’m seriously considering.”

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To compile the video, Wang also used a technique called “adaptive optics” to correct image blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere and specialized devices to suppress glare from the system’s central star. (This is why the video clip has a black circle surrounding a cartoon star icon in the middle.)

Even with these techniques, the star’s glow is still so bright that it dwarfs the outer planet when it gets too close. For those sections, Wang marked an unobservable exoplanet briefly with an “x”, So viewers can continue on their way.

Wang hopes his exoplanet videos will give a glimpse into planetary motion and an insight into the inner workings of the universe.

“Often, in science, we use abstract ideas or mathematical equations. But something like a movie that you can see with your own eyes,” Wang said. It gives you the kind of deep appreciation for physics that you won’t get just by looking at the graphs on a chart. “

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