Gemini Planet Imager’s First Light Image of Beta Pictoris b

Gemini Planet Imager’s first light image of Beta Pictoris b, a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The star, Beta Pictoris, is blocked in this image by a mask so its light doesn’t interfere with the light of the planet.
Creit: Processing by Christian Marois, NRC Canada

WASHINGTON — Astronomers have detected nearly 1,000 planets outside of our own solar system, but little is known about their composition. Now, the Gemini Observatory’s Planet Imager enables scientists to image exoplanets directly.

Current planet-imaging systems are only able to see gas giants about three or more times the size of Jupiter. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has detected thousands of smaller planet candidates but cannot image these directly.

“Almost nothing is known about the composition of the planets Kepler is seeing,” principal investigator Bruce MacIntosh, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a news conference here today (Jan. 7) at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society. “Direct imaging is offering a way to do that.”

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