Two distant planets orbiting one Sun-like star were captured by astronomers for the first time.
They are 309 light years from Earth – and shed new light on the evolution of the solar system.
Images from systems with multiple worlds are extremely rare – and have never been found with a star similar to ours.
In addition, it is less than 17 million years old – emerging about 50 million years after the death of the dinosaurs.
The lead author, Alexander Bohn, a doctoral student at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, explained: "This discovery is a snapshot of an environment very similar to our solar system – but at a very early stage of its evolution".
The impressive photo was taken by European Southern ObservatoryVery Large Telescope (ESO VLT) in the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile.
The observations will help scientists understand how the planets around our own sun formed. Too hot to host life, they will also help to identify those most likely to harbor it.
Exoplanets are gas giants about one and a half and three times the size of Jupiter. They are also much heavier, having between six and 14 times their mass.
The largest has an estimated surface temperature of 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,600 degrees Fahrenheit) – and probably has a highly inflated atmosphere.
The star, known as TYC 8998-760-1, is similar to ours – but it is only 16.7 million years old.
Co-author Professor Matthew Kenworthy, also in Leiden, said: "Although astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of exoplanets in our galaxy, only a small fraction of them have been directly captured."
He added: "Direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life."
So far, only two of these systems have been seen directly – both around stars markedly different from our sun.
Co-author Dr. Maddalena Reggiani, from KU Leuven, Belgium, said: "Our team has now managed to take the first image of two gas giant companions that are orbiting a young solar analogue."
The planets can be seen as two points of bright light about 160 and 320 times more distant from their parent star – in the upper left corner of the picture – that the Earth is in the Sun.
To put this in context, the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, also two gas giants, are only five and ten times more distant, respectively.
By capturing different images at different times, the researchers – including Dr. Steven Rieder of Exeter University – were able to differentiate them from the background stars.
They stumbled on the system while searching for young giant planets around stars using the telescope's SPHERE (Exoplanet High Contrast Polarimetric Research)
The instrument blocks the bright light of a star with a device called a coronagraph – allowing much weaker planets to be seen.
Older planets, like those in the solar system – are really cool for this technique to work. But young planets are hotter – and therefore shine brighter with infrared light.
By taking several images over the past year – in addition to using data since 2017 – the researchers confirmed that the two planets are part of the star system.
Further observations with the future ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) – will allow them to test whether they graduated from the current location or migrated from elsewhere.
It will also help to probe the interaction between two young planets in the same system.
Bohn said: "The possibility that future instruments – such as those available at ELT – being able to detect less massive planets around this star is an important milestone in understanding multi-planetary systems, with possible implications for the history of our own system. solar ".
In May, the VLT saw a baby planet being born 520 light years away. It was the first telescope to directly capture an exoplanet when it photographed a speck of light around a brown dwarf star & # 39; failed & # 39 ;.
The latest findings were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.