What do real, undoctored pictures of exoplanets look like?

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You've seen hundreds of artist's interpretations of exoplanets like Zarmina and the many others discovered over the past decade. But what does it really look like when astronomers see an exoplanet through their telescopes? Pretty much like this.

Over at Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait has put together a fascinating gallery of exoplanet images like this one, which look a lot different than the gorgeous images you normally see illustrating articles about the discovery of alien worlds. This is the raw truth - though it's still a little bit doctored, as Plait points out when he mentions the false color:

The star in question is a brown dwarf (what some people unfairly call a failed star) called 2MASSWJ1207334-3932 - or 2M1207 for short - located about 230 light years from Earth. This false-colored infrared image shows the star as blue, and the planet red.

The planet, called 2M1207 b, has about 5 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbits the star over 8 billion km (5 billion miles) out, about twice the distance of Neptune from the Sun.

The planet was first seen in 2004, but astronomers had to wait a year to confirm it really was a planet and not a background star or galaxy.


See the whole gallery at Bad Astronomy.