A Sun-like star and two exoplanets 300 light-years away could reveal how Earth’s solar system came to be

A Sun-like star and two exoplanets 300 light-years away could reveal how Earth’s solar system came to be
The star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets. This is the first time astronomers have directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun.ESO/Bohn et al

  • The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has caught the first-ever direct image of two planets outside the solar system orbiting an Earth-like star.
  • The trio captured on camera seems a lot like a much younger version of our own solar system, according to Alexander Bohn who led the research team.
  • The similarities could help scientists detail the evolution of our solar system and help with the hunt for other habitable worlds.
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) has caught the first-ever direct photograph of a solar system that looks very much like our own — only much younger. Nearly 300 light-years away, it has a Sun-like star with two giant planets in orbit.

Dubbed TYC 8998-760-1, this system could help scientists understand how our own solar system came into existence. It could also lay the foundation for finding other habitable planets outside the solar system.

Exoplanets are shy
Exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — are not the most photo-friendly of celestial objects. Only a handful of them have ever been directly photographed. When it comes to capturing two or more exoplanets, a mere two system systems have been directly observed. Even then, their stars were remarkably different from the Sun.

A Sun-like star and two exoplanets 300 light-years away could reveal how Earth’s solar system came to be
The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the centre (TYC 8998-760-1b) and bottom right (TYC 8998-760-1c) of the frame, noted by arrows. Other bright dots, which are background stars, are visible in the image as well. ESO/Bohn et al.

“This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our solar system, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution,” said Alexander Bohn, who led the research project published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life,” added co-author Matthew Kenworthy.

Further and heavier
One of the two gas giants is orbiting the Star at 160 times the distance between the Sun and Earth. The other is around 320 times further. But when you compare the distance to the gas giants in our solar system — Jupiter and Saturn — the distance is only 5 and 10 times greater, respectively.

It’s not the distance between the star and its planets that are further but the exoplanets are also much heavier than Jupiter and Saturn. The inner planet has 14 times Jupiter's mass and the outer planet is six times denser.

“The possibility that future instruments, such as those available on the ELT [Extremely Large Telescope], will be able to detect even lower-mass planets around this star marks an important milestone in understanding multi-planet systems, with potential implications for the history of our own Solar System,” said Bohn.

The ELT is expected to be ready for use in 2025. It will have the potential to test whether these planets formed at their current location and so far away from their stars or if they migrated from somewhere else.

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