Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2017 February 1

Four Planets Orbiting Star HR 8799
Video Credit & CC BY License: J. Wang (UC Berkeley) & C. Marois (Herzberg Astrophysics), NExSS (NASA), Keck Obs.

Explanation: Does life exist outside our Solar System? To help find out, NASA has created the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) to better locate and study distant star systems that hold hope of harboring living inhabitants. A new observational result from a NExSS collaboration is the featured time-lapse video of recently discovered planets orbiting the star HR 8799. The images for the video were taken over seven years from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Four exoplanets appear as white dots partially circling their parent star, purposefully occluded in the center. The central star HR 8799 is slightly larger and more massive than our Sun, while each of the planets is thought to be a few times the mass of Jupiter. The HR 8799 system lies about 130 light years away toward the constellation of the Flying Horse (Pegasus). Research will now continue on whether any known or potential planets -- or even moons of these planets -- in the HR 8799 star system could harbor life.

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