Two teams of astronomers are independently claiming to have the first ever images of planets in orbit around a star other than the Sun — with pictures from one team showing three planet-like bodies orbiting a distant star. Using the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii, one team took infrared images of three objects, each 5-13 times the mass of Jupiter, in orbit around HR 8799, a star 130 light years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus.
The other team used the Hubble Space Telescope to take photographs of a potential planet that’s no bigger than three Jupiters2. It circles Fomalhaut, a star 25 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, completing one orbit every 872 years. The object is roughly 119 times further away from its star than Earth is from the Sun, and is located at the inner edge of a debris disk that it appears to have sculpted into a sharp smooth ring by pulling in stray dust as it orbits. Astronomers have been hunting for direct evidence of planets orbiting a star outside the Solar System for nearly a decade. More than 300 extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, have been discovered so far but these have been found using indirect methods — for example, by detecting the way a star wobbles as planets orbit them rather than using images.