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Watch an exoplanet’s 17-year journey around its star

Longest time-lapse footage of an exoplanet to date was assembled from real data

A Northwestern University astrophysicist has created the longest time-lapse video of an exoplanet to date.

Constructed from real data, the footage shows Beta Pictoris b — a planet 12 times the mass of Jupiter — sailing around its star in a tilted orbit. The time-lapse video condenses 17 years of footage (collected between 2003 and 2020) into 10 seconds. Within those seconds, viewers can watch the planet make about 75% of one full orbit.

Artist’s impression of the planet Beta Pictoris b orbiting its star. Credit: ESO L. Calçada/N. Risinger

“We need another six years of data before we can see one whole orbit,” said Northwestern astrophysicist Jason Wang, who led the work. “We’re almost there. Patience is key.”

Wang began tracking the exoplanet years ago, constructing his first time-lapse footage of the system to show five years of its journey. For the updated, longer version of the time-lapse, Wang sought help from Malachi Noel, a student at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. Noel spent summer 2022 as a member of CIERA’s Research Experiences in Astronomy at CIERA for High School Students (REACH) program. Then, as a REACH graduate, Noel began working under Wang’s mentorship during January 2023.

An expert in exoplanet imaging, Wang is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA).

Continue to the full Northwestern News story.