Exoplanets dance around a distant star in stunning 12-year timelapse (video)

Four Jupiter-mass exoplanets dance around their parent star in stunning new slow motion footage collected over a dozen years.

The purpose of the recently released video is to make the long orbits of these massive exoplanets more recognizable to a wider audience, Northwestern University astrophysicist Jason Wang said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).

“This video shows the planets moving in human time scale. I hope it will let people enjoy something amazing,” Wang said. In real life, the planet closest to the star HR8799 makes one rotation every 45 years. The most distant world would take half a millennium (500 years) to go around a star once.

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Stop motion animation of four exoplanets dancing around the star HR8799.

Stop motion animation of four exoplanets dancing around the star HR8799. (Image credit: Jason Wang/Northwestern University)

HR8799 is 1.5 times as massive as our Sun and lies about 133 light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. (For comparison, our closest star system, Alpha Centauri⁠, is just over 4 light-years away.)

Although slightly more massive than our Sun, HR8799 is much brighter, with its own brightness five times that of Earth. HR8799 is also very young, only 30 million years old, compared to our middle-aged sun, which is 4.5 billion years old.

Three planets in the HR8799 system. The planets, thought to be gas giants more massive than Jupiter, were first photographed in 2008 and shown here in a vortex corona image. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Palomar Observatory)

HR8799 was the first star system ever to have direct images of the planets, which was completed and announced in November 2008. The new time-lapse footage uses footage from the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Maunakea in Hawaii.

Keck has big advantages for astronomy: adaptive optics to compensate for the blurring effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, and a coronagraph that blocks light from the parent star, allowing fireflies (planets) to see through the reflected light.

Wang and his colleagues created one slow motion image after seven years of intermittent observation. The recently released timelapse is an updated version of 12 years of observations when Wang’s team got access to the telescope.

“Observing orbital systems in time-lapse video does nothing scientifically, but it helps others appreciate what we are studying,” Wang said. “It can be difficult to explain the nuances of science in words. But demonstrating science in action helps others understand its importance.”

Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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