Gemini Planet Imager photographs dust around HR4796A

Although it has been possible to take direct photos of exoplanets for a few years, the technology involved has been low-resolution and slow -- it can take up to an hour to get a crude shot of a dimly-lit world. It's much easier with the recently launched Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), though. Scientists have released early images from the Chile-based instrument that took a mere minute to capture, and reveal more detail than ever before. Researchers have already spotted a full dust ring (seen at left) and the spectrum of a young planet. The imager's secret ingredient is a deformable, etched silicon mirror that can correct for atmospheric distortion much more effectively than traditional glass. GPI is still relatively untested, but it should ultimately let astrophysicists focus on quality over quantity when studying alien worlds.

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Gemini Planet Imager photographs alien worlds in just a minute