Image: HAT-P-7 and its companion star in images obtained with the Subaru Telescope. IRCS (Infrared Camera and Spectrograph) captured the images in J band (1.25 micron), K band (2.20 micron), and L’ band (3.77 micron) in August 2011, and HiCIAO captured the image in H band (1.63 micron) in July 2012. North is up and east is left. The star in the middle is the central star HAT-P-7, and the one on the east (left) side is the companion star HAT-P-7B, which is separated from HAT-P-7 by more than about 1200 AU. The companion is a star with a low mass only a quarter of that of the Sun. The object on the west (right) side is a very distant, unrelated background star. (Credit: NAOJ)

Explaining Retrograde Orbits


While radial velocity and transit methods seem to get most of the headlines in exoplanet work, there are times when direct imaging can clarify things found by the other techniques. A case in point is the HAT-P-7 planetary system some 1000 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. HAT-P-7b was interesting enough to begin with given its retrograde orbit around the primary (meaning its orbit was opposite to the spin of its star). Learning how a planet can emerge in a retrograde orbit demands learning more about the system at large, which is why scientists from the University of Tokyo began taking high contrast images of the HAT-P-7 system.

It had been Norio Narita (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan) who, in 2008, discovered evidence of HAT-P-7b’s retrograde orbit. Narita’s team has now used adaptive optics at the Subaru Telescope to measure the proper motion of what turns out to be a small companion star now designated HAT-P-7B. The team was also able to confirm a second planet candidate that had been first reported in 2009. The latter, a gas giant dubbed HAT-P-7c, orbits between the orbits of the retrograde planet (HAT-P-7b) and the newfound companion star.

Read more: Explaining Retrograde Orbits — Centauri Dreams.

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