Watch 4 Huge Planets Dance Around Distant Star That's 5X Brighter Than The Sun

hero planetary dance
A Northwestern University astrophysicist has produced a stunning video of four planets dancing around their sun. The tantalizing planetary dance was made using observations over a 12-year period.

The four exoplanets tripping the light fantastic were among the first ever to be directly imaged, a discovery made in 2008. The quartet of planets orbit the star HR 8799 and were first observed using the world's biggest ground-based telescopes in Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Northwestern University astrophysicist Jason Wang's video of the planets "gives viewers an unprecedented glimpse into planetary motion."

"It's usually difficult to see planets in orbit," remarked Wang. "For example, it isn't apparent that Jupiter or Mars orbit our sun because we live in the same system and don't have a top-down view. Astronomical events either happen too quickly or too slowly to capture a movie. But this video shows planets moving on a human time scale. I hope it enables people to enjoy something wondrous."

HR 8799 is located 133.3 light-years away from Earth in the Pegasus constellation. The star of the video is 1.5 times larger than our own and is around 5 times more luminous. HR8799 is also younger than our sun, forming around 30 million years ago, according to the Northwestern University press release.

Wang and his colleagues applied to observe the system each year at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Wang put together his first video after seven years of observations. The latest video utilizes twelve years of imaging data which shows the entire twelve years in a condensed 4.5-second time-lapse.

Wang explained, "There's nothing to be gained scientifically from watching the orbiting systems in a time-lapse video, but it helps others appreciate what we're studying." He added, "It can be difficult to explain the nuances of science with words. But showing science in action helps others understand its importance."

The video was created using a technology called "adaptive optics" to correct image blurring caused by Earth's atmosphere. In order to suppress the glare from HR8799, specialized instrumentation called a coronagraph which selectively blocks light and processing algorithms were used. The final touch was using a "form of video processing to fill in data gaps" in order to make the motion of the planets appear smooth.

"In astrophysics, most of the time we are doing data analysis or testing hypotheses," Wang stated. "But this is the fun part of science. It inspires awe."