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How Do Artists Portray Exoplanets They've Never Seen?

How realistic are images of planets around other stars—and should they be? CLICK HERE FOR AN IMAGE GALLERY

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Paisley Planet

This artist's rendering accompanied the discovery of the first Saturn-size exoplanets around the stars 79 Ceti and HD 46375, each more than 100 light-years from Earth. The rings and moons are speculative, but it's the paisley-pajama feel of the image that bugs Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, the astronomer whose team discovered the planets.....[ More ]

Oops: Not a Planet

This image accompanied a 1999 NASA press release announcing the possible first view of a star outside the solar system. A Hubble shot of a star-forming region in the galaxy IRAS 04361+2547 showed an odd line extending from a star and ending in a dot, which researchers interpreted as potentially the wake of a young Jupiter-like planet kicked out of its orbit.....[ More ]

…or Maybe Fiery?

In an alternate conception of an imagined moon of the planet HD 168443 c, so-called tidal forces caused by the planet's gravity have squeezed and stretched the moon during its many orbits, creating volcanic heat that has melted much of its surface ice.....[ More ]

Icy Moon…

In one possible view of the planetary system around the star HD 168443, more than 100 light-years away in the constellation Serpens, a hypothetical moon (landscape) orbiting a ringed planet is covered in ice, because the star is probably too distant to melt frozen water on the satellite's surface.....[ More ]

This Is Not a Photo

Artist Lynette Cook received many compliments for this 1999 rendering of a planet transiting in front of the star HD 209458, but not always for the right reasons: One person asked her what image processing software she had used to enhance what he thought was a Hubble photo.....[ More ]

Feeling Blue

The large gaseous planet or "hot Jupiter" depicted in this image orbiting the star Gliese 436 is colored blue to indicate that the heat from the star may have splintered large, brownish organic molecules in the planet's atmosphere into smaller molecules that scatter blue light instead, says astronomer Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley.....[ More ]

In the Clouds

Cloud patterns on so-called hot Jupiters—gas giants orbiting close to their stars—may look something like this image, derived from atmospheric simulations. Such clouds would likely look very different from those of our solar system's gas giants, which spin faster and are far cooler than hot Jupiters, says astronomer Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz.....[ More ]

Rendering an Exoplanet

Artist Tim Pyle of the Spitzer Space Telescope created an image of a hypothetically black, scorching hot exoplanet in stages. Beginning with a computer model of a sphere [ upper left ], he combined cloud patterns and shading [ lower left ] with a mottled color scheme of red and black [ upper right ] and incorporated an image of background stars to complete the vision [ lower right ].....[ More ]

How a Spectrometer Sees an Exoplanet

To discover exoplanets, researchers often use an instrument called a spectrometer to break starlight into its component wavelengths, which are projected onto the pixels of a sensitive CCD (charge-coupled device) camera.....[ More ]

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