Beta Pictoris b is a massive gas giant ten to twelve times the mass of Jupiter. The planet is roughly a million times dimmer than its parent star but using a coronagraph filter the starlight can be blocked out, thereby revealing the dim glim of the orbiting planet.
From our perspective, Beta Pictoris b should be completely swallowed by starlight, and yet, a team of astronomers led by Maxwell Millar-Blanchaer at the University of Toronto managed to spot it, thanks to the incredible optical engineering that’s gone into the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) instrument on the Gemini South telescope in Chile. First, GPI’s adaptive optics system sharpens the image of the target star by canceling out distortion caused by Earth’s atmosphere. Next, it uses a filter called a coronagraph to block out all that pesky starlight, revealing the faint glow of orbiting planets.