If you've had a bad week (if you're a scientist, who hasn't?) this will definitely perk you up. A series of eight observations have been put together and made into a movie by Canadian and American astronomers, letting you see the incredible cosmic ballet of four exoplanets around their star.
The system, called HR 8799, is located 129 light-years from Earth and it is a very young system that formed less than 30 million years ago. The star is orbited by four large planets, each several time the mass of Jupiter and between 15 to 68 times further out than Earth is from the Sun.
The video isn’t just breathtaking, but also makes a stronger case for something that the astronomers had suspected for this system. The planets could be in orbital resonance, where the period of each one is double the next planet, in a one to two to four to eight manner.
The four orbiting planets around HR 8799. Jason Wang/Christian Marois
The innermost planet of HR 8799 orbits in about 45 years, while the outermost does it in about 400. The system also has one of the most massive disks of debris around any star within 300 light-years of the Solar System.
Astronomers are intrigued by the evolution of such a system, as it might provide a window into the past of our own. One potential scenario imagines gas giants forming far away from the star and subsequently migrating inwards. This might have happened in our own Solar System, and it might happen one day to HR 8799.
The images were collected by Dr Christian Marois from the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. He and his team used those images to work out the orbital dynamic of the four planets, and Jason Wang from the University of California, Berkeley and Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), turned the images into a video.
The images were obtained by the Gemini Planet Imager, one of the instruments attached to the Gemini South Observatory in Chile. Future observatories like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope will have the ability to produce a lot more direct views of exoplanets.
Check out the video at the NExSS associated website Many Worlds.