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Incredible Animations Show Real Exoplanets Orbiting Their Stars

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Scientists have detected thousands of exoplanets in recent years, by catching dips in light as they orbit their parent stars. These days, finding new ones isn’t usually such a big deal. But taking direct images of exoplanets, and turning them into videos so we can watch their orbits, makes these faraway worlds a little more real.

That’s exactly what graduate student Jason Wang at the University of California, Berkeley has just done. His algorithm combines years of data to create awesome videos of exoplanets orbiting their stars. “In this video you’re seeing real data,” he told Gizmodo of the video above. “I smoothed out the orbits so that it’s as if we’re watching [the planets] constantly in real time.”


The animations all come from direct imaging methods, meaning that the telescopes measure the Jupiter-sized planets directly. So-called “Hot Jupiters” are so young that they still emanate infrared light, said Wang. “They formed after the dinosaurs.”


The top video shows Beta Pictoris b orbiting the 40-million-year-old star Beta Pictoris. The planet looks like it’s diving into the star because the Gemini Planet Imager on the Gemini South Telescope in Chile observed the star head on.

Meanwhile, the gif above shows four planets orbiting the 60 million year old star HR 8799, around 130 light years away, as seen by the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The planets might even be in resonance with each other, meaning their gravity causes them to move in harmony, Wang told the Lunar and Planetary Institute-supported blog, Many Worlds.

It will be 40 years until the smallest planet makes a full orbit around HB 8799, according to Many Worlds. Hopefully Wang makes another video then.

[Many Worlds]