Astronomers have unveiled an extremely rare direct photograph of a super-massive alien world.

The planet (Kappa Andromedae b) is said to be 13 times more massive than Jupiter - and as such far, far bigger than any planet in our solar system.

The gas planet, classed officially as a "super Jupiter", orbits the star Kappa Andromedae just 170 light years from Earth.

There are more than 850 known planets outside the solar system - though there could be billions in our galaxy alone.

But of those which are known, only a tiny fraction have been directly photographed.

joseph carson

Above: Astronomer Joseph Carson


The picture was taken by Japan's Subaru eight metre telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, by Joseph Carson (College of Charleston and Max Planck Institute for Astronomy).

Ordinarily it is extremely difficult to photograph alien worlds, because they are outshone by their neighbouring stars.

In this case, astronomers were able to "hide" the glare from the sun, and using infrared light reveal the planet with the help of complex software.

The planet orbits a very young star, estimated to have been formed just 30 million years ago compared to 5 billion year ago for our star.

It is thought that the planet formed within a "protoplanetary" disk of gas and dust, which collect around stars shortly after their formation.