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Space Science

Hubble Snaps Photo of Extrasolar Planet 232

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the do-you-see-what-i-see dept.
iamlucky13 writes "Space.com has reported that a Hubble Space Telescope photo supports with a very high degree of confidence that a picture taken by the European Space Observatory does indeed show an extrasolar planet. As many readers know, planets outside our solar system are typically found by watching for wobbles in a star's orbit or for dimming caused by the planet crossing in front of its star. The ESO and Hubble images would represent the 1st and 2nd times that planets outside our solar system have been directly detected. The planet is about 5 times as massive as Jupiter and orbits a brown dwarf a little farther out than Pluto orbits our own sun."
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Hubble Snaps Photo of Extrasolar Planet

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  • Minor correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:05AM (#11320068)
    The ESO is the European Southern Observatory, not Space Observatory.
  • Sounds like (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JJ (29711) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:05AM (#11320071) Homepage Journal
    . . . not so much like Vulcan as a failed binary star system.

    Still if we can get pictures of something five times bigger than Jupiter at this distance . . .
    • Re:Sounds like (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DeathByDuke (823199)
      Still if we can get pictures of something five times bigger than Jupiter at this distance . . .

      Imagine a upgraded Hubble or Hubble II.... the implications of photographing and analysing planets and their atmospheres (by measuring the light sprectrum or even photographing it) could be enormous. Imagine one snapping a Earth type.

      Though it'd give fire to the people opposing interstellar travel ('why go there and waste a lot of money when we can photograph it safely from here?'). At least we'd be able to
      • Re:Sounds like (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RazzleFrog (537054) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:15AM (#11320150)
        Are there really that many people who oppose interstellar travel? Wouldn't we have to prove it is feasible first before people really started worrying about the cost? We haven't even figured out how to get to Mars and back in a reasonable fashion yet.
        • there's people who oppose fucking everything. :)

          or maybe they think that they'll live forever. judge from the past 1000 years and think what stuff we might have 1000 years from now.. I'd leave worrying to the later generations with the actual tech to maybe do something.
          • there's people who oppose fucking everything. :)

            I oppose fucking everything. Some things simply were not meant to be fucked.
        • Me, I oppose going to Mars from anywhere except from the Moon colony. See - for the last 30(?) years the man has NOT broken off the Earth orbit, right? So, let's send three or four people to Mars, ok, what the f...g big deal? Are we going to be happy about it for the next 100 years or what? Gosh, the planets are only an economical engine away - we kinda have everything else I guess. Why should we do that? For once - so that we don't _constantly_, even if _subconsciously_ live in the fear that it takes only
      • Re:Sounds like (Score:4, Interesting)

        by stupidfoo (836212) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:25AM (#11320236)
        Imagine a upgraded Hubble or Hubble II....

        Forgot what series it was (I think it was some six part BBC series) but the idea is to have a satellite array out in space, similar to how they have ground based arrays. They would be aligned via laser. They made it sound like this was something that was going to be done sometime around 2015, or so.

        The implications were that they would then be able to see earth sized planets directly, and possibly even be able to analyze the atmosphere of the planet.
      • Hubble is going to be replaced (assuming NASA get's it act together) with the James Webb Space Telescope. It will live out at L-2 about 1.5Million Km from earth. See http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/ for more. I just hope it gets there before HST dies. IIRC, the HST "rescue" mission has been cancelled as too risky for the STS and too expensive for robotic technology.
      • Imagine a upgraded Hubble or Hubble II--

        Forget that! Imagine a Beowulf cluster of-- (POW! Thud.)

        --Rob

      • I would love to see someone (NASA, ESA, etc.) send a space probe to another solar system. Perhaps one of those Daedalus type contraptions with a fusion drive or something more modern with an ion drive? Anyway, it would be nice if someone sent a device that could get to another system in say 20 years.

        Of course, if we find Apes there that could be a problem...

    • ....five times bigger than Jupiter...
      It's not five times bigger (in volume), it's five times more massive. Gas giants can't get much bigger than Jupiter. Add more mass and they just get more dense. (Stars are large not because of mass but because fusion pushes out from the center. )
      • Well according to the article, ". . . The planet candidate is about 1.5 times the diameter of Jupiter and about five times as massive. . ."

        So I guess that means the disk is about 2.25 times bigger than Jupiter's. Pi are squared and all that.

  • grainy! (Score:3, Funny)

    by dioscaido (541037) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:07AM (#11320077)
    how many megapixels does the hubble have?
    • it's not all about pixels. The HST CCDs are "scientific" grade chips, which means they are MUCH lower in noise, bad pixels etc than your average digital camera. These requirements also make the chips hellishly expensive, since the yield of good chips is very low.

      For a normal camera, there are gobs and gobs of photons all over the place. the HST CCDs routinely deal with only a handful of photons (1000s), so the requirements of low-noise are much more stringent.
  • ...ahh, never mind.
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:11AM (#11320107)
    when you see these photos. I know its a tremendous achievement but when you see a whole planet and it still looks like a little pixelated blob then its hard to match the achievement to what you are actually viewing.
    • As far as stars go, only Betelgeuse [nasa.gov] is large enough and close enough to get (slightly) more than a pixelated pinpoint. And stars tend to be bigger than planets.
    • Actually for me it's the opposite. I know that there was a time, during my own lifetime (and I'm just 27) when astronomers couldn't detect exoplanets by any means, even indirect means. And now finally... we get a tiny glimpse of an exoplanet for the first time. For me it's amazing to think that we finally have that technology to actually see something so tiny that is so far away. I think that it's the fact that it's just a few pixels that makes it the more fantastic, that is, it's on the edge of our technol
    • when you see these photos. I know its a tremendous achievement but when you see a whole planet and it still looks like a little pixelated blob then its hard to match the achievement to what you are actually viewing.

      Wow! I know it's not exactly a HDTV picture and doesn't match special effects. But wer're talking about imaging something that's 225 light years away.

      Isn't that sorta like reading microfiche from space or something? (I have no idea how close of an analogy that is because the scales boggle m

  • Probability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by asliarun (636603) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:11AM (#11320109)
    From the article:-
    "University of Arizona astronomer Glenn Schneider, who led the new study, said he's 99.1 percent sure the object is in orbit around the brown dwarf."

    How does one calculate the probability of accuracy and arrive at an exact figure like 99.1%? I mean, isn't this self-contradictory, or am i missing something?
    • Re:Probability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:24AM (#11320223) Homepage
      I presume they took their data, and from that created a probability cone of where it was going, not unlike the recent comet thing. And of that probability cone, 99,1% would lead to an orbit around the brown dwarf.

      If I have a random number between 0 and 100 (probability cone), I can be 99,1% sure it'll be within 0 and 99,1 (in orbit). I assume they can pretty exactly determine the "band" in which objects would stay in orbit.
    • Re:Probability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by arodland (127775) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:25AM (#11320239)
      The science of statistics is basically all about saying how sure you are about things. For example, "given this set of data from the sample group, there's a 95% chance that the mean number of slashdotters per household worldwide lies between 0.15 and 0.23," or "Given these sets of measured position and velocity vectors, and their uncertainties, there is an 0.23% chance that object X's path will intersect with the earth's in the year 2038."

      So perhaps they've taken a number of (extremely lo-res, I'm sure) measurements of the path of body X around star Y, and found that given the degree of certainty of their measurements, then there's a 99.1% chance that body X's velocity is consistent with orbit, but an 0.9% chance that all the errors stacked up the wrong way and it's really just speeding by in a hyperbolic orbit or something like that.
    • Re:Probability (Score:5, Informative)

      by LMCBoy (185365) * on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @11:01AM (#11320626) Homepage Journal
      This is the kind of silliness that results when astronomers talk to the press.

      Among ourselves, astronomers will talk about how many "sigma" a detection is, referring to how far above the Gaussian noise [wikipedia.org] the signal is. A 1-sigma detection is real 68% of the time. 2-sigma detections are real 95% of the time, 3-sigma data are 99.7% sure, etc. So, Glenn is just saying that the hypothesis that the brown dwarf and its candidate companion are actually moving together in space is supported by the data above the errors by about 2.5 sigma or so. With further observations, the errors will shrink, and it will then be above three sigma (assuming the hypothesis is correct).

      But, Glenn can't talk about "sigmas" to the press, because, sadly, not everyone knows the wonders of the Gaussian normal distribution. So he does a quick conversion to probabilities for the press release. BTW, it is indeed possible to characterize errors to the tenth of a percent, especially when you are close to 100% confidence.

      Get ready for more astronomy-related news this week; our annual society meeting (AAS) is taking place in San Diego.
      • Please bear with me if i'm off-base here.

        I can understand if someone gives an exact figure on the accuracy of a measurement. For example, if i measure 1cm with a normal ruler (with 1mm markings), i can say that my measurement was accurate upto 1mm. However, can i really say that i'm 90% sure of my ruler measurement? It doesn't make sense because a figure like 90% signifies probability and not accuracy.

        In fact, even if we take probability, say a coin toss, it doesn't hold true. I can say that the probabili
        • I can understand if someone gives an exact figure on the accuracy of a measurement. For example, if i measure 1cm with a normal ruler (with 1mm markings), i can say that my measurement was accurate upto 1mm. However, can i really say that i'm 90% sure of my ruler measurement? It doesn't make sense because a figure like 90% signifies probability and not accuracy.

          Yes, you can say "I am 90% sure of my measurement", because when you say a measurement has a precision of 1 mm, that's really a shorthand for some
  • Headline (Score:5, Funny)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:11AM (#11320112) Homepage Journal
    You gotta love the Register's headline for this story: "Extra-solar planet snapped by galactic paparazzi [theregister.com]". I supposed they are looking at a big star, but... Anyway, gave me a chuckle.
    • One has to appreciate the irony of the Register, barely a tabloid rag at best, refering to anyone as "paparazzi".
  • Planet Finder (Score:5, Informative)

    by KavanaghNY (246972) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:15AM (#11320155) Homepage
    NASA is developing the Terrestrial Planet Finder [nasa.gov] which should discover and image even smaller extrasolar planets when it is launched in a few years. Sooner than that, the Kepler Mission [nasa.gov] "will survey the extended solar neighborhood to detect and characterize hundreds of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the "habitable zone," defined by scientists as the distance from a star where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface."
    • in or near the "habitable zone," defined by scientists as the distance from a star where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface."

      The habitable zone is a rather out-of-date idea. Just look at our solar system: There is probably more liquid water all over the place - possibly in Jupiter's atmosphere as a result of internal heat, almost certainly under an ice layer on Europa and perhaps in a similar state on Callisto. Mercury has such a range of temperatures that liquid water is at least possible (a
      • The habitable zone is a rather out-of-date idea.

        Sort of. A star has a zone where liquid water could be available in large enough quantities to make a large fraction of the planet habitable for long periods, which is what's necessary for a remote detection (at least with forseeable technology).

        Mercury is unlikely to have enough water for long enough to support life, and doesn't have any atmosphere to speak of, so it wouldn't be possible to detect life around an exo-mercury, even if you could observe that
        • Sort of. A star has a zone where liquid water could be available in large enough quantities to make a large fraction of the planet habitable for long periods, which is what's necessary for a remote detection (at least with forseeable technology)

          Yes, but... the liquid water on Earth is mainly a result of CO2 in the atmosphere. Without that it would be ice! It's controversial as to whether or not Earth is actually in a so-called 'habitable zone' if that is based simply on distance from the Sun.

          It's stil
  • Sure it's interesting, but useless. I'd rather hear about a planet that is actually able to support human-type life or even humnas. Not a gigantic ball of gas orbiting a compressed sun that would suck your fillings out of your head from 10 light years away.
    • The planet candidate is about 1.5 times the diameter of Jupiter and about five times as massive.

      Who said it was a ball of gas? The earth is four times denser than Jupiter, so this planet would be similar to the earth in density.

      Dan East
      • Here are some calculations.

        The planet candidate has 1.5 times the diameter of Jupiter, which means its volume is 2.25 greater. However it is 5 times as massive as Jupiter, so its density would have to be 2.222 times greater.

        Earth is 4.16 times denser than Jupiter, so Earth is only 1.873 times denser than this new planet.

        I think that's right. :)

        Dan East
        • Okay, that's wrong.

          The planet candidate has 3.375 times the volume of Jupiter (calculated the volume wrong). It is 5 times as massive, so its density is 1.48 times greater. Thus Earth is 2.8 times denser than this planet.

          Dan East
      • The planet candidate is about 1.5 times the diameter of Jupiter and about five times as massive. Who said it was a ball of gas? The earth is four times denser than Jupiter, so this planet would be similar to the earth in density.

        Not quite.

        Mass is proportional to volume, and this planet would have 3.4 times the volume of Jupiter. So its density would only be 1.5 times that of Jupiter. That higher density could easily be explained by having the same composition as Jupiter, just more tightly packed d

    • Well we can't do all the cool things we want to do right away. We have to take it in steps. One day we will be able to produce rough maps of Earth sized exoplanets - but not today. What the article describes is one step closer to that goal.
    • Face it. We're just as likely to colonize this gas giant as we would be to colonize an earth-like planet.
  • It looks like the picture of the planet has been replaced by a screen shot of the classic Wizard of Wor arcade game radar screen.
    • Heh, I had one of those machines in my living room about 1987. I bought it for $165 from an arcade that was selling off some of their old machines to make room for new ones. I can still remember the sounds it made in amazing detail.
  • by slapout (93640) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:18AM (#11320178)
    It does not orbit a normal star, and it is much more massive than the largest planets in our solar system.

    So, we've found an object in space that's unlike any other planet we've seen, so we assume it's a planet?

  • Bump on planet? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by geordieboy (515166)
    In this [space.com] image it looks like the planet has a bump on the lower left side. Could this be a mega-Olympus Mons (on a gas giant, hmm)? Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's just noise, but it's fun to over-analyze images.
  • Hmmm... Must be Planet X. I wonder if Lord British is hanging out there? Then there was Saturn. I think thats where all the Jester's were. Anyone have any Trilithium, a Skull Key and the coordinates for Planet X? :)
  • to put this in scale (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jbeamon (208826)
    This new planet is 1.5x the size of Jupiter and 5x Jupiter's mass. Its orbit is 30% farther out from its star than Pluto is from our sun. To put things in perspective, Jupiter has been described as a brown dwarf star, since it is mostly gaseous and gives off more radiation than can be accounted for by solar reflection. This new planet-star relationship is closer to a binary star system than to our 365 day whirl around the block at a balmy 65 degrees F. (I make a point about the design and structure of t
  • maybe someone decided to build dyson sphere [wikipedia.org] instead
  • That far way? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mshiltonj (220311)
    If we can a plant 225 light years away, does that mean we have definitively ruled out the existence of planets in the solar systems close to us? If so, are planets rare? /me notes to look this stuff up later this evening.

    • does that mean we have definitively ruled out the existence of planets in the solar systems close to us?

      Hell, we haven't even ruled out the existence of more planets in OUR solar system [bbc.co.uk]. Give it some time.
    • Re:That far way? (Score:2, Informative)

      by ByrneArena (848313)
      It was easier to see BECAUSE it goes around a brown dwarf. A brown dwarf has the mass to be a sun but not enough "feul" to create the fission reaction to light up. So essentially it is easier to see because there is not as much light around it. That and the fact that it is such a large planet. While 5 time Jupiter's size seems large, there are suns that are as big as the entire ORBIT of Jupiter in diameter. So as planets go, yes its big, but not sun-like in size.
    • Re:That far way? (Score:2, Informative)

      by StyroCupMan (815468)
      With our current technology, the largest extra-solar planets are the only ones we can reliably detect, let alone photograph.

      It helped significantly in this case that the planet was so far away from a dim star, because most of the difficulty comes when searching for a dim speck in the glare of a bright star. The December National Geographic had a great article [nationalgeographic.com] on the search for extra-solar planets and compared it to finding a firefly in the glare of a lighthouse from several miles away.

      Thus, astronomers
  • by dtolman (688781) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:58AM (#11320594) Homepage
    ...when they can confirm closer to 100%. This isn't the first time they've seen a dim point of light next to a star and hoped its a planet. Last time they waited a few months, they found out that the "planet" stayed put while the star moved on its merry way.

    If the "planet" is still moving in concert with the star in a few months, then I'll believe it.

  • One interesting result of the mechanics of this exploration is the discovery of such nearly-binary star systems, described as "planetary". A huge gas giant orbiting a dark (brown), small (dwarf) star is more binary, with a common center of gravity - and orbit - somewhere between the geometric centers of both bodies. (The Earth and Moon are a binary planet, orbiting a center inside the Earth, offeset from our exact center.) All kinds of fascinating astrophysics - like perhaps a gravitational/orbital pump tha
  • Large planet orbiting brown dwarf. How is it lit up enough to see it?

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