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Space breakthrough as scientists observe planet 129 light years away

Astronomers have used a ground-breaking technique to observe a planet that lies 129 light years from Earth.

The "super-Jupiter" has a stormy surface with swirling clouds of iron and silicate – and scientists are describing it as a world unlike any found in our own solar system.

Known as HR8799e, the ball of gas is believed to be bigger and much younger than any planet orbiting the sun.

Scientists usually have to use indirect methods to study such exoplanets because of the blinding light of their stars.

However, astronomers managed to make direct observations using a technique that combines the light from multiple telescopes.

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This method, known as optical interferometry, enabled four telescopes to work as one – creating an imaging system that was sensitive enough to disentangle light from the planet and its parent star.

The snappily named HR8799e was first discovered in 2010 as it orbited a star in the Pegasus constellation.

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Sylvestre Lacour, from the Paris Observatory in France and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, said: "Our observations suggest a ball of gas illuminated from the interior, with rays of warm light swirling through stormy patches of dark clouds."

Mr Lacour said the observations paint "a picture of a dynamic atmosphere of a giant exoplanet at birth, undergoing complex physical and chemical processes".

The findings were made by Gravity, an instrument that combines four light beams from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope Interferometer in Chile.

Details about the exoplanet have been published in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal.

Last year, Gravity observed gas swirling at 30% the speed of light just outside the massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

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