Incredible video of the 17-year journey of a giant exoplanet

3456px Beta Pictoris b

Large telescopes and observatories have shown great improvements in recent years. Thanks to different techniques or changes in electronics, they make it possible to observe the universe with unprecedented quality. Together with a little patience and capturing images over years, it is possible to obtain a video of the orbit of an exoplanet around its star.

Beta Pictoris system annotated
Direct image of the near environment of Beta Pictoris. A dust disk and the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b. Credits: ESO/A.-M. Lagrange et al.

Observing a giant exoplanet

Beta Pictoris is the second brightest star in the Pictor constellation and is located approximately sixty-three light-years from the solar system. Beta Pictoris b is an exoplanet with an estimated mass of twelve times that of Jupiter, its discovery was made possible by infrared observations.. Counting with a separation of ten times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun.

In addition, it was possible to study not only its motion around the starbut also the rotation on itself. In the first case, it requires twenty-three years to complete a full orbit and eight hours to rotate on its own axis. It is thus one of the planets with the shortest known day length.

Capturing a complete orbit

Using data taken by one Gemini and two ESO instruments, an astrophysicist used artificial intelligence-driven tools to analyze numerous archival images of Beta Pictoris. Subsequently, a series of algorithms were needed to interpolate the motion of the exoplanet and to produce a continuous videoinstead of showing jumps in its position.

Given the tight schedule of Gemini, ESO and in general of the world's major observatories, it is not possible to capture new images every day from the same target.. However, interpolating information from a smaller sample of data allows us to know what it looked like at a certain date.

In the video the location of Beta Pictoris is marked by a yellow star. Aalthough it is purposely obscured in the instruments to distinguish the considerably less dim light from the exoplanet.. In this process, different diffraction processes are generated and the striking wave patterns appear.

Data taken between 2004 and 2020 were used, adding seventeen years to show about 75 % of the planet's orbit. We are still six years away from observing the full motion of the object around its star. Offering a new perspective on everything we could only imagine decades ago.

Francisco Andrés Forero Daza