March 29, 2023

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See four planets orbiting a star 130 light years away

Four outer planets, each larger than Jupiter, orbit HR8799, represented by a yellow star at the center.
picture: Gizmodo / Jason Wang / Northwestern University

Astronomical phenomena tend to occur over timescales dwarfing human size — the galaxy changes over millions and billions of years, not decades. But a new time-lapse of observations of a distant star system shows its motion over a period of just 12 years, packed into just a few seconds.

The star, known as HR8799, was it The first planetary system outside the solar system ever directly. Recently, Jason Wang, a professor of astrophysics at Northwestern University, used more than ten years of observations of the system to create a five-second animation depicting the motion of four large planets orbiting the star. Wang and colleagues collected 12 years of data using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Snapshots of four planets orbiting HR 8799 (12-year time-lapse)

Wang said in a Northwestern press release. “For example, it is not clear that Jupiter or Mars orbit our sun because we live in the same system and we don’t have a top-down view. Astronomical events either happen too quickly or too slowly to be captured on film. But this video shows planets moving on a human time scale. I hope it will enable people to enjoy something wondrous.”

HR8799 is located more than 130 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Pegasus. The star has 1.5 times the mass of the Sun and is about five times brighter. Four giant planets call the star home, each larger than our own Jupiter. The innermost planet takes about 45 years to complete its orbit, while the outermost planet takes nearly five centuries. (Neptune, the farthest known planet in our solar system, orbits the sun every 165 years.)

“There is nothing to gain scientifically from watching tropical systems in time-lapse video, but it helps others to appreciate what we are studying,” Wang said. “It can be difficult to explain the nuances of science in words. But showing science in action helps others understand its importance.”

This current Wang animation isn’t his first; Produced by researcher A Similar and shorter animation In 2017 after seven years of monitoring data. Wang’s animation provides a tangible perspective on planetary motion—a phenomenon we may have only been able to simulate or read about before.

Correction: An earlier version of this story’s title said the system was 130 million light-years from Earth, when in reality it was 130 light-years away.

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