17-year time-lapse of Beta Pictoris b orbiting its star

This is the longest time-lapse footage of an exoplanet to date, all made with real data. Beta Pictoris b is a 12 Jupiter mass planet orbiting its star at a distance of 10 AU (10x Earth-Sun distance) on a near-edge on orbit. The first image of the planet was obtained in 2003. However, the planet’s projected orbit passed too close to the star to be seen for several years, until it reappeared on the other side in 2009. The same thing happened again between 2016 and 2018. You can also see the exoplanet imaging technology evolve over time.

Data from this movie are from the Gemini Planet Imager, NACO, and SPHERE instruments and span 17 years. We  use a technique called motion interpolation, commonly found in video editing and in modern TVs, to reconstruct what the image should look like using images taken before and after the date we are interested in.  The light that looks like is coming out from the mask that blocks the star is not astrophysical in origin. What you are seeing is the residual glare of the star, caused by starlight scattering off of the telescope and instrument optics. The images you see here are already processed to remove most of the glare of the bright star so that we can even see these planets. However, this process is not perfect and residual scattered starlight is what you see.

Read more in the Northwestern News story.

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