Archive for October 20, 2011

Baby Planet Pictures…

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on October 20, 2011 by telescoper

My eye was caught this morning by this dramatic picture on the front page of the Guardian website, linked to a story about the discovery of a very young planet:

I wonder how many people looking at it thought that it was an actual picture of a planet actually forming? In fact the above graphic is just an “artist’s conception” of the view near the planet, which is called LkCa 15b. The real picture is considerably less dramatic:

What you see is (left) a disk of dust and gas surrounding a star cleverly made visible by masking out the light from the star, which is much brighter than the disk.  On the right you can see a blow up of the inner region of the system, which appears to show a Jupiter-like planet associated with an irregular blob of material, out of which it probably condensed and from which it may still be accreting.

The size of the picture on the right is worth noting. The angle indicated is 76 milli-arcseconds. This is the angle subtended by  the  width of a  human hair at distance of about 130 metres…