From the north of the country and taking advantage of the clear Chilean skies, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) were able to capture for the first time the specter of an exoplanet, also known as an extra-solar planet.
This discovery, considered a milestone in the search for life in other parts of the universe, took place at the Cerro Paranal Observatory in the region of Antofagasta, and was possible thanks to the NACO infrared instrument installed in the Very Large Telescope (VLT).
“This information will allow us to understand better how the planet was formed and, in future, we might even be able to find signs that would point to the presence of life”, explained expert Markus Janson from the University of Toronto in Canada.
Specifically, the researchers obtained the specter of a giant exoplanet that orbits the luminous young star HR8799, which has a mass 1.5 times that of the Sun and hosts a planetary system that is 130 light years away from the Earth.
“After over five hours of exposure time we were able to separate the specter of the planet from the light of the mother star, which is several thousand times more brilliant than the planet”, explained Carolina Bergfors, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany
In 2008, another group of astronomers located three enormous companion planets whose masses were between one and 10 times that of Jupiter and are thought to be between 20 and 70 times more distant from their mother star than the Earth is with regard to the Sun.
The team that is currently in Chile seeks to capture soon the “fingerprints” of the other two planets. The objective is to compare for the first time the specters of three planets that belong to the same system, different from the solar system.
“This will undoubtedly shed new light on the processes that lead to the formation of planetary systems such as ours”, concluded Janson.