For the first time, a telescope has captured a family portrait of another solar system with not just one, but two planets posing directly for the cameras while orbiting a star like our sun. This baby sun and its two giant gas planets are fairly close by galactic standards at 300 light-years away. The snapshot—released Wednesday—was taken by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert. What makes this group shot so appealing is it's a "very young version of our own sun," said Alexander Bohn of the Netherlands' Leiden University, who led the study. The star—officially known as TYC 8998-760-1 and located in the Musca, or the Fly, constellation—is barely 17 million years old, reports the AP. By contrast, our sun is 4.5 billion years old.
The two newly discovered gas giants around this young star orbit at a much greater distance than Jupiter and Saturn do our sun—requiring a few thousand years to complete one revolution. For now, there's no evidence that this young star has more planets, but "it is certainly possible and they might just be too faint," Bohn said. Astronomers typically confirm worlds around other stars by observing brief but periodic dimming of the starlight, indicating an orbiting planet. It's much harder and less common for a telescope to directly observe these so-called exoplanets. Of the 4,183 exoplanets confirmed to date, only 48 of them have been directly imaged—just 1%, per NASA statistics. Only two multi-planet solar systems have been spotted using the direct method, both with stars quite different than our sun, according to the observatory.
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