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Has This New Discovered Planet Suddenly Disappeared?

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Located in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus -the southern fish- Fomalhaut is one of the brightest stars in the sky.
It is a class A star, therefore is quite hot, and its distance from the sun accounts for about 25 light-years, as measured by the fantastic Hipparcos mission. 

Fomalhaut is a special star for many reasons.
For example, it was used as a stable anchor point for star classification: its beautiful spectrum has served as a calibration spectrum for all the other stars.
It is, in fact, a Vega-like star, surrounded by the circumstellar disk, which results in an infrared excess of radiation. This means that Fomalhaut it’s quite reddish. 

Alpha Piscis Austrini, as Fomalhaut is also called, it’s not alone: it constitutes a triple star system along with the stars TW Piscis Austrini and LP 876-10.

But what makes Fomalhaut even more special? 

Follow me in this video to get to know it. 
You will also learn that science is not so straightforward, and that the same results can lead to different interpretations among the scientific community. In other words, scientists are humans and the universe is hard to understand.


Basically, in 2008 NASA announced the discovery of an exoplanet. 
It was November 13th, and Hubble Space Telescope was the author behind this discovery. 
The historical value of this discovery was quite remarkable since it was one of the first exoplanets to be directly imaged. In short terms, we had a picture of it. 

Hubble, the famous exoplanet hunter (and more), was pretty good at his job.
In 2005, it resolved the structure of the Fomalhaut star and found that there was a massive cold debris disk surrounding the star. 
The ring is not centered on the star and has a sharper inner boundary. 

The presence of this huge disk helped look for exoplanets. 
In fact, if there was a planet, maybe a massive one, with a wide orbit, and located in the interior of this debris ring cloud., we would have seen something special. 
In particular, this planet would have cleared out parent bodies and dust in its vicinity, leaving the ring appearing to have a sharp inner edge and making it appear offset from the star, as we exactly observed. 

In May 2008, a planet was identified. 
Paul Kalas and James Graham from NASA found it among images from HST dated 2004 and 2006, in the visible wavelength.
NASA released the composite discovery photograph in 2008.

Anyway, soon doubts started to arise. 

In order to understand what was happening, let’s clarify how HST’s exoplanet detection works. 

As the name would suggest, Direct Imaging consists of capturing images of exoplanets directly, which is possible by searching for the light reflected from a planet’s atmosphere at infrared wavelengths. The reason for this is because, at infrared wavelengths, a star is only likely to be about 1 million times brighter than a planet reflecting light, rather than a billion times (which is typically the case at visual wavelengths). 
One of the most obvious advantages of Direct Imaging is that it is less prone to false positives. Whereas the Transit Method is prone to false positives in up to 40% of cases involving a single planet system (necessitating follow-up observations), planets detected using the Radial Velocity Method require confirmation (hence why it is usually paired with the Transit Method). In contrast, Direct Imaging allows astronomers to actually see the planets they are searching for.

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Credits: Ron Miller, Mark A. Garlick /
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