This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows 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.

Written by Maurice (Travin)

July 25, 2020

This one image is beyond amazing. The technical background on how it was produced is equally amazing. It wasn’t just taken with straight imaging hardware but more a production of software that has taken decades to develop.

First up is the application to detect and even know which stars to look at. Without it, time would be wasted on thousands of stars that have no such planets. Detecting wobbles or small fluctuations of light are really the only clues that a planet could exists. That’s all software, not just a telescope.

Second is the software used to reduce the visable light so that surrounding object can be imaged. We use similar techniques for capturing the moons around Jupiter but with a star that is 300 ly away is more impressive than ever. This technique is called polarimetery as indicated by ESO.

The last piece of software is basically a wavelength signal processing application that picks out peaks within infrared radiation. 

All of this combines to produce a singular image which will define the future of extraplanetary research.

On the horizon for ESO is to develop the next phase of their software which can better analyize the spectrograph in detail for each planet and produce a detail atmosphere analysis of its composition. If successful, this could even be used to detect life or the indicators of advanced civilizations.

European Southern Observatory