U.S. astronomers say detailed observation of four planets orbiting a star relatively close to the sun has revealed them to be among the most exotic ones known.
The researchers said the findings were made possible by a first-of-its-kind telescope imaging system that allowed the astronomers to pick out the planets amidst the bright glare of their parent star and measure their spectra, the rainbows of light that reveal the chemical signatures of planetary atmospheres.
"These warm, red planets are unlike any other known objects in our universe," study lead author Ben R. Oppenheimer, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, said. "And the planets are very different from one another as well. All four planets have different spectra and all four are peculiar."
Previous images of these four planets, which orbit a star called HR 8799 located 128 light years away, have been recorded but because a star's light is tens of millions to billions of times brighter than the light from that star's own planets, distinguishing planet light from starlight so as to directly measure the spectra from the planets alone is difficult, the researchers said.