Okay…it’s time to really get my nerd on. For those of you frightened by forays into the darker, scarier reaches of nerd-dom, now might be a good time to look away…
What’s got me all geeked-up, you ask? Direct imaging of planetary systems.
And, no, I don’t mean our damned system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cool-as-hell pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto to which we have been treated lately, but they don’t get me well-and-truly going. Not the way “pictures” of other star systems do.
Think about it: should I get all hot and bothered about an uber-detailed picture of Jupiter’s storms…or by one that shows a gas giant orbiting another star? That’s like arguing about which is better, The Phantom Menace or Empire Strikes Back. I mean, c’mon now…let’s be real here.
With all that said, imaging of what the professional astrogeeks call “extrasolar” systems is hard. I mean, REALLY hard. We can’t truly do it in visible light because, well, stars are kinda bright. There have been some cool successes, however, including one of a planet roughly twice the mass of Jupiter orbiting a brown dwarf (which I’m adding here). Take a look at this picture before you check out the ones below to…well…get yourself used to what this kind of stuff looks like.
Visible light is a problem, but other wavelengths…other wavelengths are a different story. We still have trouble picking out planets, but very smart people are working very hard to do this. And even the “crappy” pictures are pretty damned cool.
This is more of a photo post than a normal one, but…crap…the pictures are freaking awesome…
1) A bunch of baby pictures of newly forming planetary systems…more specifically, the dust clouds around young stars where planet formation is taking place. The cleared “lanes” and spaces you can see are where planets have already come together:
2) And some “adult” pictures…well, at least as close as we can come:
3) And, lest you criticize the “bad” pictures above, just remember that we are talking about hundreds of light-years for most of them. Heck, just getting good pictures in our own damned backyard is tough: below is what Pluto and Charon look like to Hubble, versus what we finally saw when we got a “close-up” from the New Horizons probe. Not to repeat myself, but this stuff is hard: