Despite discovering more than 4000 exoplanets, most remain obscure.
Their nature — small, faint, and in tight orbits — prevent direct imaging.
The stellar glare simply overwhelms their planet’s reflected light.
However, heat-generating exoplanets are special.
Just like Jupiter, they reflect visible light, but emit their own infrared radiation.
When well-separated from their parent stars, they yield to direct imaging.
Since then, a few dozen exoplanets have been directly imaged, all very massive.
The lightest one, 51 Eridani b, exceeds double Jupiter’s mass.
It was discovered back in 2011 by NASA’s WISE: a wide-field infrared telescope.
Recent work led to its identification as a widely-separated planet, bound to the dwarf star L 34-26.
It’s the second most well-separated exoplanet ever, behind TYC9486 b.
It’s also the second faintest exoplanet ever found, behind WD 0806-661 B.
The COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbiTS (COCONUTS) program is successfully identifying these massive, well-separated exoplanets.
However, rocky exoplanets cannot be directly imaged yet.
A properly equipped next-generation space telescope, like HabEx or LUVOIR, will someday reveal those worlds.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.