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Space Science

Hubble Discovers a Hundred New Planets 395

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the space-real-estate dept.
Spudley writes "The BBC is reporting that the Hubble Telescope has discovered over a hundred new exoplanets - a number which almost doubles the total known. Apparently they are also expecting to be able to analyse the atmospheres of up to 20% of them. The discovery will be confirmed within the next seven days."
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Hubble Discovers a Hundred New Planets

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  • by Braingoo (771241) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:11AM (#9592071)
    I wonder if one of them is the planet of the apes.....Oh wait staue of libetry AGGGGGGGh that was earth!!!
    • You could have prefaced that with "spoiler alert" you know.

    • I thought it said "discovered a hundred new Patents"
    • Makes you wonder if this is something that JPL, or whoever runs Hubble, schemed up in order to save the Hubble from the ax. Did they get together and reprioritize, abandoning the more scientifically significant work and focusing on work that has a much higher public profile, but perhaps less scientific significance?

      BTM
  • by Gorffy (763399)
    To see what kind of planets they are, what kind of systems etc. anyone have a link to specific data?
    • That I read about recently that predicts the number of planets which are capable of supporting carbon-based life. Does anyone know where I can find it? The guy that came up with it has used his own numbers/functions to predict that there are some 200,000 (maybe more?) planets in our galaxy alone that can support carbon-based life. Of course, this is all hinges on my memory being correct . . . hmmmmm.
      • Found It!! (Score:5, Informative)

        by TheLetterPsy (792255) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:19AM (#9592158)
        The Drake Equation [monstrous.com].

        So how many of those 200-odd planets that we know of are capable of supporting carbon-based life? You crunch the numbers . . .
        • Re:Found It!! (Score:5, Informative)

          by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:02AM (#9592598)
          The Drake equation doesn't exactly predict the number of planets capable of supporting life (though it's related to some of the factors involved: R*, Fp, and Np in the formulation given.) N, the "result" of the Drake equation, is actually the number of technological civilizations in the galaxy.

          Although it's certainly an interesting equation to think about, its main problem is that we don't really know what most of the factors are. You can support guesses that result in anything from hundreds of thousands of civilizations in the galaxy, down to it being suprising that there's even one.

          Rather than predicting the number of these planets that have life, the observations are more likely to help us get a better idea of what some of those factors are. Actually, though I didn't RTFA, my understanding is that most or all of the planets they discover are gas giants, often bigger than Jupiter. So, it's unlikely that any of them have life on them -- at least, life as we expect to find it. However, it will give us a better idea of how many stars have planetary systems, and studying their atmospheres might give us some clues as to whether the system would contain planets suitable for life.

        • Re:Found It!! (Score:3, Informative)

          by julesh (229690)
          The problem is that our sample is currently heavily biased toward gas giants because of detection techniques that have been used so far.

          Also, life-supporting planets is only one factor of many in the Drake equation. Others are _much_ more contentious, like proportion on which life arises, and proportion of life bearing planets that give rise to civilization. Disagreements on those two tend can be in large orders of magnitude.
    • The real exciting news is that they've only confirmed 18 Starbucks locations on those 100 new planets...
  • Too bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:12AM (#9592081) Homepage Journal
    Too bad Congress is pretty much convinced to let the Hubble die...
    • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Informative)

      by lphuberdeau (774176) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:21AM (#9592180) Homepage
      Actually, an other space telescope will be brought in space a few years after hubble 'dies', and it will be a lot better. The shuttle incident really caused problems in space explorations. The shuttles are all still locked on the ground (in pieces) and when they will fly again, the ISS will be their only destination. This is the reason why hubble won't be repaired, there is simply no shuttle going that way and they just don't consider the repair is worth a $500 million launch.

      But it's not too bad since there will only be a 4 year gab (or so) between both satelites.
      • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Dan Ost (415913) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:40AM (#9592385)
        If the new telescope did everything that Hubble does, then I wouldn't mind.
        However, the new telescope won't see in the visible spectrum like Hubble does.
        This makes the new telescope less interesting to me.
        • So is your interest is worth a $500,000,000 potentially risky shuttle flight to save the telescope for a few more years?
        • Just because the new instruments capture in InfraRed, doesn't mean you won't get nice images. Scientists will be happy to apply false color techniques to thier data to make it all pretty. Most of the space images you already see are enhanced to bring out or add in the color.
        • Re:Too bad... (Score:3, Informative)

          by beta21 (88000)
          Actually Earth bound telescopes are much better at resolving images at the visible wavelengths.

          As for UV or IR a lot of that gets blocked by the atmosphere, space telescope is the best option.

          As for most of the pretty pics you see they are enhanced and shifted so you can see it.
      • Hubble will, presumably, be left up there.

        Does this mean salvage rights are available? :)
        • Re:Too bad... (Score:3, Informative)

          by LMCBoy (185365)
          HST is in too low an orbit to stay aloft indefinitely. Without regular servicing missions (and the all important boost up the shuttle gives it at the end), it will crash into the atmosphere on a timescale of several years.
      • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Informative)

        by LMCBoy (185365) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:10AM (#9592701) Homepage Journal
        No, JWST won't be "a lot better" than Hubble. It will be a lot better at the one kind of observing that it was designed for. However, HST was really good for many many different kinds of observing. This mission diversity is a large part of what makes HST so great. Not to mention the upgradability of HST (JWST will be unserviceable).
    • Re:Too bad... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nwbvt (768631)
      ...too be replacd by the even better James Webb Space Telescope. Critics of NASA's decision to let the Hubble fall seem to forget this in their attempts to manufacture public outcry. The Hubble is out-dated (it was designed in the 70s) and has lived out its intended lifespan (15 years). Whats more, with the advances made since the Hubble was made, ground based telescopes such as the VLT have nearly the same resolution as the Hubble and is much easier to service, so there is much less of a need for a spac
      • Re:Too bad... (Score:4, Informative)

        by cellocgw (617879) <cellocgw@@@gmail...com> on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:00AM (#9592566) Journal
        Whats more, with the advances made since the Hubble was made, ground based telescopes such as the VLT have nearly the same resolution as the Hubble and is much easier to service, so there is much less of a need for a space telescope
        A minor correction: VLT and adaptive optic systems allow ground-based systems to do better than Hubble in the visible portion of the spectrum. For IR and UV stuff that never makes it thru the atmosphere, a space-based telescope is the only option.
      • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Scott Ransom (6419) <sransom @ n r a o . edu> on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:16AM (#9592777)
        What's really too bad is that most of your arguments are completely incorrect. First off, Hubble is a technological marvel -- it's current "best" detector, the ACS, is one of the most sophisticated instruments in the world. It is state-of-the-art. And the primary mirror is still outstanding (perfectly ground to the wrong, but _known_ shape).

        Second, the new JWST will only work in the near infra-red. That is fantastic for cosmology, star formation and certain other sciences, but will not help with the optical and near-UV science that HST can provide.

        And finally, while adaptive optics at most new ground based telescopes are doing great things, there are still _severe_ limitations to their use: only small fields of view are available and bright stars need to be nearby in the sky (this greatly limits the fraction of the sky that can be viewed by these systems). Note: yes, sodium laser-based AO systems can fix some of these problems, but the lasers are currently highly problematic and the systems have very low observing efficiency (i.e. useful scientific data per unit of telescope time).

        So bottom line is that HST will be sorely missed by astronomers/astrophysicists. And yes, as a professional astronomer, I will be one of those missing it (even though most of my work is in the radio).
      • Re:Too bad... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tackhead (54550)
        > ...to be replacd by the even better James Webb Space Telescope. Critics of NASA's decision to let the Hubble fall seem to forget this in their attempts to manufacture public outcry.

        Tell you what. When JWST sees first light, I'll be first in line to press the "deorbit" button on Hubble.

        Until then, remember that you're not just dealing with an engineering problem (namely, a successful launch and deployment - which isn't rocket sci- oh, wait...), but you're also dealing with a political problem, na

  • by siokaos (107110) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:12AM (#9592084) Homepage
    A hundred new specs of dust on the lens.
  • by webwalker (15831) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:13AM (#9592085) Homepage
    Hate to say it; I'm with the folks who would prefer to explore by robot and orbiting camera first. That buys us time to do a a nanotube 'beanstalk' right.

    What a shame that the only thing that has frequently motivated us to look to the skies and spend the money to get there is fear and politics.

    RMW
    • I'm no expert on the fear and politics surrounding HST, but I am an expert on the physics/astronomy front (IAAAP). That said, I am profoundly disturbed by NASA's decision to cancel future missions to extend the lifetime of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

      Hubble is still profoundly useful, and even its proposed successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, cannot probe the same regions as HST. The reason has to do with the filters hooked up to it. James Webb is designed to view the highest redshift objects, so its filters are very red. The "bluest" light it can observe is about 600 nm, which appears yellowish-orange to our eyes, up to about 2000 nm, far into the infrared. HST can observe wavelengths between ~200 nm (ultraviolet) and ~850 nm (near infrared). I don't know why people keep spouting off that the James Webb is a superior replacement to HST, because it probes an entirely different type of light.

      It's also worth noting that all of these extra-solar planets are gas giants, comparable to Jupiter-sized objects. The reason people are interested as far as life goes is not that they expect to find life on these planets, but that these planets may be indicators of other, Earth-type planets, in the same solar system.
  • This is good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Spontaneous (784926) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:13AM (#9592089)
    As a long time follower of our space exploits, I was dismayed when NASA announced their plans to not service hubble. When the massive outcry came forth, they were smart and decided to do the robotic mission thing. My two cents on this matter: we can learn more from using telescopes such as hubble than we can by going back to the effing moon. This article shows that, even after all these years, hubble is a key part of our space exploration program - and it should stay that way.
    • Non-sequitur.

      More about what? More about astronomy - sure. But more about colonizing space and exploiting space resources? No. Why does it need to be either/or?

    • Re:This is good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ImTwoSlick (723185) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:14AM (#9592751)
      My two cents on this matter: we can learn more from using telescopes such as hubble than we can by going back to the effing moon.

      I hate to say it, but ...Hubble is just a telescope. There... I said it. It's only real advantages over ground based telescopes are its position above the atmosphere, and greater sky viewing range.

      A base on the moon would have HUGE advantages over Hubble. With no atmosphere, and better accessability [slashdot.org] for repairs and upgrades, a moon based telescope would be a far greater asset then Hubble. I'm also sure there are many other research possiblites a new environment like this will provide.

  • Wow. (Score:3, Funny)

    by MachineShedFred (621896) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:13AM (#9592095) Journal
    Good think O'Keefe is going to let it fall out of the sky, because I want to have a time when Hubble doesn't see something that vastly increases our knowlege of the surrounding universe again...
    • Re:Wow. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ajs (35943) <ajsNO@SPAMajs.com> on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:20AM (#9592170) Homepage Journal
      Unless this observation was done in a wavelength atenuated by atmosphere (e.g. in near UV), then I don't see why the fate of Hubble is relevant. Ground-based scopes out-power hubble and new scopes that are planned out-power those.

      Hubble should be replaced at some point. My only question (as asked previously here on /.) is: should we build it as an orbital device like Hubble, or should we put it on the moon? A moon-based scope has many advantages and disadvantages which should be considered.

      • Re:Wow. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by sindarin2001 (583716)
        The abilities of Hubble don't really lie in it's sheer imaging abilities but rather its vantage point. Being out of the Earth's atmosphere has quite a bit of an advantage over terrestrial telescopes because of less atmospheric distortion. That said, the Hubble does need to be replaced...and hopefully BEFORE Hubble is rendered useless.
      • Re:Wow. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Penguinshit (591885)

        The observation wasn't done directly, ie Hubble didn't see bodies orbiting stars. Hubble can see pretty well, but it can't see that well.

        How the observation is done is by analyzing minute Doppler variation patterns in the spectral signature of the stars, filtered through an iodine spectral mask.

        As the spectral signature of the star drifts from left to right you can determine how many bodies are orbiting, and the approximate masses of those bodies. When you get an occultation (planet passing in front o
      • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Informative)

        by bware (148533) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:30AM (#9592972) Homepage
        A moon-based scope has many advantages and disadvantages which should be considered.

        They have considered it, thanks. Also scopes on the Antartic high ice cap, and earth-trailing, and at 5 AU, and at L2.

        Why is there always an assumption that the folks at NASA are idiots? Or is that just the usual /. assumption that anyone working in any field is an idiot? (Every /. story about any new device or invention leads with the usual "I wonder what they're going to do about X," where X is the blindingly obvious thing that any simian would have thought of first - yes, they've thought about it and actually done a calculation!).

        It's incredibly expensive to softland devices on the moon, compared to orbiting them in space. There's no solar power for two weeks at a time, so you'd have to use nuclear, which limits the amount of power you can get (and nuclear power generators are heavy, so you can't just launch more). Assuming it's a visible wavelength telescope (IR just seems impossible with the temp variations), when you're in the shade, you have to keep things warmed up to room temp, and when you're in the sun, you have to shield them from the sun without blocking your aperture. Being on the moon severely limits pointing capabilities - you have to point where ever the moon is pointing (L2 satellites have to point anti-sun but that's less restrictive). In fact, when the sun is shining down your aperture, can you observe at all? There's no soft lander infrastructure in place (you can't call up Boeing and order a Delta IV with the moon soft landing option), so you'd have to develop that also. It would include landing a multi-ton very precise, irreplaceable mirror and deploying in a gravity field. Just seems like a design, cost, and risk nightmare. All this is robotic of course, unless you also want to pay for the infrastructure to put humans up there. Which would cost about the same as 5 or 10 Hubble equivalents. That would make the telescope the flea on the elephant's back and the first thing to be cut when the inevitable overruns happened.

        Now where are the advantages? Or did you just say that because you think there are some but you really haven't thought about what they are, but hey, Hubble on the moon! That sounds cool! Right up there with "move the Hubble to the ISS" in terms of bad choices.
  • by stoneymonster (668767) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:14AM (#9592105) Homepage
    Clearly its just trying to pad its resume now that the axe has fallen. -C
  • by Deflagro (187160) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:14AM (#9592107)
    Yes now I definitely see that we need to be rid of this useless piece of space junk. It does nothing apparently but further our knowledge and increase our view of the universe. Worthless piece of junk.

    Are they still planning on scrapping this thing? That would be sad.
    • by stuffman64 (208233) <stuffman.gmail@com> on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:36AM (#9592330) Homepage
      RTFA. At the bottom of the article, it clearly states:

      The US space agency Nasa is studying options to refurbish the Hubble telescope using unmanned spacecraft following a decision earlier this year that, in the wake of the Columbia disaster, it was too dangerous to send astronauts to it on the space Shuttle.


      Hopefully the upgrades will be good enough to complement the James Webb Space Telescope [nasa.gov] scheduled to launch in 2011. I can't wait to see if they redo "deep field" picture with this, it would be truely stunning.
  • SETI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Osgyth (790644) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:14AM (#9592112) Homepage
    I wonder if SETI will examine these areas more closely.....
  • Okay then... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by k4_pacific (736911) <k4_pacificNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:15AM (#9592115) Homepage Journal
    If this doubles the number of known planets, does this make Earth half as significant? I mean, is Earth at all significant in the big scheme of things? I am reminded of that picture from Carl Sagan's book showing Earth as a mere speck against the vastness of space. I think the book was called The Pale Blue Dot. Wow, this makes me feel a lot better about forgetting to pay my phone bill.
    • If this doubles the number of known planets, does this make Earth half as significant?

      0/2 = 0. You may rest easy: our planetary prestige is undamaged!

    • Re:Okay then... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by James Lewis (641198)
      Everything depends on how you look at it.

      Like some people would say it increases the importance of earth, as everything else was obviously created as scenery just for us.

      Others would say that until life is discovered on another planet, we can be as egotistical as we want about our presence. We can speculate all we want, but the fact is that there aren't any signs of life that we've encountered, and that makes us quite unique. On the other hand, others would look at that and say that it's because life only
    • Re:Okay then... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:37AM (#9592345)
      First off if they don't have life, then that would "make" the earth twice as significant as it currently is.

      Secondly, seeing as how the ping time between solar systems is in the order of thousands of years, there will never be any meanfull interaction or exchange between planets. I mean we can watch them and they can watch us, but since it will be centuries before a response comes back, there is no real chance for real communications. Transportation is even worse. If you really wanted to, you could travel across the universe and end up in a place completely different than it was when you left, and every one you left has been dead for centuries. So it would be the most awesome retirement ever, but you can throw out any concept of trade or diplomicy between planets.

      It's one of those cruel ironies, that after years of dreaming about space creatures, we found out nearly simultaneously that statistically they are certain to exist, and physically they are certain to never play any role in our lives.

      Unless we find some big loophole that allows us to get around relativity, the earth really is an island to itself, and while it may be one of millions, it is the only one that will ever have any significance whatsoever to us. That makes it pretty darn important in my eyes.

      -jackson (don't have my password to 'pavon' at the moment)
      • Re:Okay then... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Decaff (42676)
        Unless we find some big loophole that allows us to get around relativity, the earth really is an island to itself, and while it may be one of millions, it is the only one that will ever have any significance whatsoever to us. That makes it pretty darn important in my eyes.

        whenever I read something like this, I think of what somone living a couple of millenia ago would have thought of the Earth with its unreachable distant lands and mysterious and endless oceans. They would have thought that their villag
      • by achurch (201270)

        Unless we find some big loophole that allows us to get around relativity, the earth really is an island to itself, and while it may be one of millions, it is the only one that will ever have any significance whatsoever to us.

        Of course, six hundred years ago everyone was convinced that the earth was flat, and that if you sailed too far you'd fall off the edge.

        I'll grant that science plays a significantly bigger role these days than it did back then, and that we know a bit more now about how much we don'

    • "Reflections on a Mote of Dust

      Image of Earth captured by Voyager 1 [nasa.gov]

      We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every kin
  • so wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacerodent (790183) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:21AM (#9592174)
    Is anyone even clear now on how many planets are in just our solar system? We found two more even smaller than pluto but now they're saying not even pluto counts as a planet..so rather than just be like WEE LOOK A ROCK hows about we get some unified standards of some sort
    • Pluto hasn't even finished an orbit (estimated in 130 earth years) around the sun, since it was discovered in 1930.

      And those others that were recently discovered, there isn't enough data to say how they will behave (if they will scape to outter space or whatever)
    • In order to detect planets in other solar systems, they'd have to be huge, like gas giants. So it's safe to say they quality as planets.
  • It was my understanding the exoplanets are detected by analyzing the "wobble" of the star that they orbit. How is it possible to determine anything about the atmosphere of the planet?
    • Re:Atmosphere? (Score:2, Informative)

      by aquabat (724032)
      Spectral analysis. In some cases, the planet crosses between us and the star, and if it has an atmosphere, then the gasses in the atmosphere will absorb some of the light from the star. Different compounds in the atmosphere will absorb different colors of light, so the colour of the star will appear different to us when the planet is in front of the star. By analysing the colour difference, you can determine the chemical composition of the planet's atmosphere.
    • Re:Atmosphere? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jfengel (409917) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:39AM (#9592363) Homepage Journal
      You can also detect planets by watching the way the star dims slightly when it's eclipsed. You can only detect really big planets this way; you wouldn't notice the transit of Venus from that far away.

      But once you've found a planet that big, you can look even more closely and see what color changes you observe during the dim period. You can chalk that up to wavelengths of light absorbed by the planet's atmosphere, which you can use to hazard a guess as to what the planet's made of.

      In all likelihood it's pretty much the same as Jupiter, which is to say pretty much like the sun itself: mostly hydrogen and some helium. But you might be able to detect faint signals of nitrogen, oxygen, maybe some carbon, and perhaps a bit of ammonia. The ratios of hydrogen to helium will suggest a lot about the way the planet was formed.
    • Some of them are not detected by wobble, but by brightning/darkening of the image (planet passes between us and star, stars apparent brightness decreases).

      If your imaging is refined enough, and you know specific wavelengths of light that are lost in the dimming, you can conclude the atmosphere of the thing which absorbed some of the light.
    • Maybe dimming was just a primary detection. They may have looked a lot of starts at the same time and later focused on those that dimmed and also used a coronograph (that reduce the bright of the star itself making the planets around it more visible.
  • ...these planets? Is it some kind of spectrum analysis?
  • ...what this means for the SETI guys. I mean, it's not conclusive evidence of anything, but it'll be interesting to see who's working overtime this week.
  • by SsShane (754647) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:27AM (#9592234)
    The discovery will lend support to the idea that almost every sunlike star in our galaxy, and probably the Universe, is accompanied by planets.

    If you've ever read anything about star formation the co-effect of planet formation seems a no-brainer. Just eddies in an accretion disk. It would seem more unlikely to me that an accretion disk would perfectly aggregate into a lone star. In fact, you can apply this to other things, such as ring formation, and more sporadically I would imagine, life. The universe is a BIG place.
  • Let it die (Score:5, Funny)

    by nearlygod (641860) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:29AM (#9592251) Homepage
    It's a good thing that we are going to let the Hubble fall into disrepair. All of these new discoveries mean that we will have to keep revising our Science textbooks and that is an expense that our school systems cannot afford. At least when that damn telescope stops working we will can content that we know all that it is possible to know without the burden of having to keep up with these new "facts."
  • Sorry now (Score:5, Funny)

    by jeorgen (84395) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:34AM (#9592305)
    So now all those who have criticised Hubble should be sorry. They have to eat Hubble pie.
  • Wonderous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by werdnab (556710) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:36AM (#9592328)
    The discovery will lend support to the idea that almost every sunlike star in our galaxy, and probably the Universe, is accompanied by planets.

    This is even beyond Carl Sagan's reasoning of the likleyhood of the existence of life in the Universe. It is hard to imagine the possible abundance of extra terra life, but this theory is reasonable, and this discovery is one step closer to proving it.

    I just wish I could be around to witness the presentation of absolute proof that life exists elsewhere in the Universe.

    • Re:Wonderous (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Artifakt (700173)
      This makes two terms in the Drake equation that are apparently close to unity (Likelyhood of a star having planets), and (Likelyhood that simple life will develop into complex, multicellular life). It's a pity that some of the others, like (likelyhood a technological civilization survives long enough to be detected), may be very close to 0.
  • "Beam me up Scotty, I'm going home"
    I have always loved space and the notion of other planets and potentially with life. I hope we find one that does have an atmosphere that can support life.
    Even if we do not make it in my lifetime, to know it is there, waiting, is an amazing thing indead.
    I am feeling inspired right now - I am glad I read that article :)
  • by blech (8859) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:51AM (#9592463) Homepage
    While the BBC News headline is as gung-ho as Slashdot's uncritical echo, the first paragraph contains the key word 'may' ("may have discovered..."), and even the lead scientist admits that some of the planets may not be confirmed.

    The BBC article also notes that confirmation may not come "until Fall", not in 'seven days' as you have.

    This smells more like a press release than meaningful, peer-reviewed astronomy to me. I suspect it's a piece of "hey, let's keep Hubble" propaganda.
  • by sakyamuni (528502) on Friday July 02, 2004 @10:53AM (#9592484)
    The discovery will be confirmed within the next seven days.

    This is incorrect, probably based on a misreading of this quote: "If this is confirmed, in seven days we will have doubled the number of planets known in nine years."

    The article states that Kailash Sahu, the astronomer who made the discovery, did so during an observation period of seven days. According to the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, they don't expect final results until September or October.

  • by Adlopa (686151) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:07AM (#9592677)
    That's what I misread this story headline as. I need to start reading some other websites...
  • Sunspots? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Quixote (154172) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:35AM (#9593033) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    Some of the stars observed were seen to dim slightly in brightness. It is thought that a planet passing in front of the star is responsible for the dip in its light output.

    Couldn't this "dip" be caused by sunspots?

  • by Pedrito (94783) on Friday July 02, 2004 @11:59AM (#9593349) Homepage
    How many stars did they have to look at to find 100 planets passing in front of 100 stars?

    Think about it. Just between the Earth and the Sun, Venus only passes between our line of sight with the sun twice every hundred years (isn't that the correct figure)? I mean, it passes by in inner orbit, but it only actually eclipses the sun twice in that period. The rest of the time, it's either above or below the sun.

    Now, with Venus, we're in fairly similar planes of orbit. But with other stars, the odds of the plane being in our line of sight AND a planet happening to pass right between us and the star while they're looking, the odds of that have to be pretty damn low.

    I mean, I'm sure they realize this, but I'd have to think they had to look at tens of thousands of stars to catch 100 planets passing by, at least. Am I missing something?
    • I'm sure a statistician could calculate the odds - and tell you that for every x planets you find, you've missed y.

      Luckily, I don't think the astronomers are looking one star at a time for only an instant - it's probably a computer comparing a helluvalot of observations of a large area and looking for variations in the illumination of any stars in that area. You're still limited by the plane of the system, but in terms of transit, you're limited only to planets with an orbital period less than or equal to
    • I mean, I'm sure they realize this, but I'd have to think they had to look at tens of thousands of stars to catch 100 planets passing by, at least. Am I missing something?

      Probably not, the planet only has to pass in front of the star's corona for us to notice, and a lot of these might be hot giants (orbiting very close to the star) - which I'm leery to count as a real discovery.

      In addition, a greater majority of planetary orbits will be laying on the galactic plane. Our system isn't, which means that we
  • Uh, no. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Einer2 (665985) on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:02PM (#9593380)
    100 planetary candidates /= 100 planets

    For those who follow this field, I'll remind you of the OGLE project, which has been doing the same thing from the ground. They found 60 likely planetary candidates (out of a similar number of stars monitored), but only two of those actually look like they could be planets. All the rest are either grazing-incidence binaries or blended binaries. The higher resolution of Hubble may help the blend problem to an extent, but I highly doubt the number of actual planets is anywhere near 100.

    They also have little chance of confirming whether these are actually planets, as you need to do extremely high-resolution spectroscopy in order to confirm its existence via the radial velocity method. Even Keck can only do that for stars down to ~16th magnitude, and according to the observing proposal [stsci.edu], this survey is going down to 23rd. They might be able to get precise-enough light curves to reject false positives based on color-curve changes, but I'd like to see it before I believe it.

  • by PassiveLurker (205754) on Friday July 02, 2004 @12:16PM (#9593551) Homepage
    In case anyone's interested and prefers a little more science in their science reporting, here's the original proposal (it's a text file):

    http://www.stsci.edu/observing/phase2-public/9750. pro [stsci.edu]

    A big aspect of this proposal *not* mentioned in the BBC article is the importance of metallicity on star formation - in other words, what star environments (old vs. young) form more planets.
  • by Hamster Lover (558288) on Saturday July 03, 2004 @02:19AM (#9598452) Journal
    How will we ever reach the Moon and eventually Mars if we're too afraid to launch a Space Shuttle mission to fix the Hubble?

    We have a viable space system gathering dust because of a paralyzing fear that something might go wrong on another shuttle mission. Do you think Russia, China, even India are holding their collective breaths waiting for us to make a decision on our space program?

    The Apollo fire proved that from crippling failure success can be born. We picked ourselves up, analyzed what went wrong and forged ahead. The crew of Columbia were well aware of the risks of space flight and took those risks willingly.

    We've mourned long enough, it's time to fix what's wrong and honor the memories of Columbia by renewing meaningful space science again without fear.

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