Okay, that's just plain amazing.
Dance of the Exoplanets
Northwestern University astronomer Jason Wang has created a stunning timelapse of a number of exoplanets orbiting a distant star, using observations spanning the last 12 years.
The 4.5-second clip shows four planets orbiting a star dubbed HR8799, some 133.3 light-years away from Earth.
In 2008, the star's orbiting planets became the first to have ever been directly observed by astronomers — and now, in an incredible demonstration of the power of modern skywatching tech, we get to watch them carry out their heavenly dance.
Each planet captured in the video is absolutely huge, with a mass considerably higher than Jupiter.
That means they take forever to complete their orbits. The planet closest to its host star takes 45 Earth years to complete a revolution. The outermost planet takes almost 500 Earth years.
"It’s usually difficult to see planets in orbit," said Wang in a statement. "For example, it isn’t apparent that Jupiter or Mars orbit our Sun because we live in the same system and don’t have a top-down view."
"Astronomical events either happen too quickly or too slowly to capture in a movie," he added. "But this video shows planets moving on a human time scale. I hope it enables people to enjoy something wondrous."
Host star HR8799 is far younger than the Sun at around 30 million years, but is also 1.5 times more massive and five times as bright. That kind of luminosity makes dimmer planets exceedingly difficult to spot.
Using the W. M. Keck Observatory, located on the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, Wang and his colleagues observed the system year after year using an instrumentation technique called a "coronagraph" that allows the observatory to black out the light of the star — hence the black circle.
After 12 years of yearly observations, Wang put together the timelapse — which surprisingly wasn't primarily created in the name of science.
"There’s nothing to be gained scientifically from watching the orbiting systems in a timelapse video, but it helps others appreciate what we’re studying," Wang said in the statement.
"It can be difficult to explain the nuances of science with words," he added. "But showing science in action helps others understand its importance."
READ MORE: Watch distant worlds dance around their sun [Northwestern University]
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