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Sunday, May 13, 2007

First surface map of an extra-solar planet

The first map of the surface of a planet outside our solar system has been produced. This is a temperature-variation map of HD 189733b, orbiting a star about 63 light years from Earth. HD 189733b is considered a "hot Jupiter": a gas giant that orbits extremely close to its parent star (like, closer than Mercury does to our Sun). The map was produced with observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Click here for more info.

Absolutely amazing. It wasn't that long ago that we only suspected that there were planets orbiting other stars. In just a few years we've catalogued hundreds of new planets and now we've arrived at where we can get a picture of a planet's surface. Who knows what kinds of things we'll be picking out of the sky in another 10 or 20 years.