An international team of researchers, including Portuguese, has directly observed a planet outside the solar system for the first time using the optical interferometry technique, the European Southern Observatory (OES) said in a statement today.
The team, whose results were published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, include the instrumentation specialists for astrophysics António Amorim and Paulo Gordo (University of Lisbon) and Paulo Garcia (University of Porto).
Optical interferometry is a technique that allows astronomers to create an optical ‘super telescope’ by combining smaller telescopes and observing a planet directly rather than by its gravitational effect on the star-host (indirect sensing method).
In observing the extrasolar planet in question, the “HR8799e”, located about 129 light-years from Earth in the Pegasus constellation, was used the GRAVITY high-resolution instrument, which is mounted on the OES Very Large Telescope Interferometer.
This instrument resulted from a collaboration of several European institutions, including the Portuguese CENTRA – Center of Astrophysics and Gravitation of Instituto Superior Técnico, to which António Amorim, Paulo Gordo and Paulo Garcia are associated.
The ‘young’ exoplanet HR8799e, with an estimated age of 30 million years, was discovered in 2010 to orbit the HR8799 star.
The observation made by the OES telescope at Cerro Paranal in Chile allowed researchers to obtain more detailed light scatter and more accurate measurements that revealed that the atmosphere of the planet contains iron clouds and silicate dust, components that combined with excess carbon monoxide, suggest that the atmosphere is in a violent storm.
“HR8799e” is considered a “super Jupiter,” a body with a lot more mass than Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, which was formed 4.5 billion years ago. The outer planet is an inhospitable world where temperature surface will be around 1,000 degrees Celsius.
The Southern European Observatory is an astronomical organization that has Portugal as one of the member countries.