This dual portrait shows the discovery image of exoplanet 51 Eridani b (51 Eri b; labelled “b” in the top image) and an artist’s visualization of the exoplanet in nearinfrared light, which shows hot layers deep in its atmosphere glowing through clouds.
The discovery was made using the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) — the most powerful of its kind — on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. GPI uses the most advanced adaptive optics technologies to achieve unprecedented performance. The starlight is blocked by a coronagraph to mask and diminish the primary star’s glare, revealing faint point sources close to the star.
51 Eri b is unique in many aspects: It’s the least-massive exoplanet definitively imaged to date (earlier instruments would not have been sensitive enough to detect it); the giant planet’s clouds are among the most tenuous known, allowing studies deep into Its atmosphere; and the object resembles what Jupiter might have looked like soon after its formation.
Because of its age, this young cousin of our own Jupiter is still hot and carries information on the way it was formed some 20 million years ago.