23:27 GMT14 August 2020
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    A new photograph captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) is the first image of a “very young version of our own sun” surrounded by two gas planets, according to the leader of the study that took the photo.

    Alexander Bohn of the Netherlands' Leiden University told the Associated Press that the new study he led, published on Wednesday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, included an image of an “extremely exciting” discovery.

    The snapshot, he explained, was “the first time astronomers were able to capture such a shot” of a multi-planet system featuring a “very young version of our own sun.”

    The VLT, which is based out of Chile’s Atacama Desert, captured images of the star TYC 8998-760-1 and two massive exoplanets orbiting it. TYC 8998-760-1 is located approximately 300 light-years from Earth.

    The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope captured the first-ever image of a sun-like star surrounded by two planets
    The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope captured the first-ever image of a sun-like star surrounded by two planets

    Astronomers detailed that the VLT’s Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument uses its coronagraph to block the light emitted by faraway stars and, in turn, highlight the glow of distant exoplanets.

    "This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution," Bohn said in a statement, as reported by Space.com.

    Prior to the Wednesday release, astronomers had only been able to photograph systems with two or more exoplanets on two other occasions. Furthermore, neither of those systems contained stars comparable to TYC 8998-760-1.

    "Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged," said study co-author Matthew Kenworthy, an associate professor at Leiden University.

    According to the researchers, the gas giants observed in the image are vastly larger than the planets within our own solar system. The inner exoplanet is estimated to have a mass 14 times that of Jupiter, and the other exoplanet is around six times larger than Jupiter.

    "The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT, will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own solar system,” Bohn said.


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