planetThe breakthrough images include a three-planet system around a sun-like star.

In the hunt for solar systems beyond our own, astronomers have crossed an important threshold – capturing from the ground, as well as from space, the first direct images of planets around bright, sun-like stars.

Since September, three teams say they have imaged planet-candidates. The most recent reports, published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, include a three-planet system around a variable star 128.5 light-years from Earth.

Until now, researchers have had to content themselves with shadowy, indirect approaches to finding planets – measuring a regular wobble in a star’s spectrum as gravity from its massive planets orbit and tug on it, or the cycle of brightening and dimming a star appears to experience as a planet crosses its face.

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