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NASA Space Science

Exoplanet Found In Old Hubble Image 54

Posted by Soulskill
from the old-but-new dept.
Kristina at Science News writes "A new way to process images reveals an extrasolar planet that had been hiding in an 11-year-old Hubble picture. After ground-based telescopes found three planets orbiting the young star HR 8799, a team took that information and reprocessed some 11-year-old Hubble Space Telescope images. Voila. There was one of the three planets, captured by Hubble but not visible until new knowledge could see the picture in a fresh light. The technique could reveal hidden treasures in many archived telescope images." For reference, the first exoplanet to be (knowingly) directly imaged was 2M1207_b in late 2004.
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Exoplanet Found In Old Hubble Image

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  • I wonder ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Extremus (1043274)
    ... how many other unknown things are hiding in those old images.
    • Probably just the secrets to the universe... dun dun dunnn...
    • Re:I wonder ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:33AM (#27022081)
      ... how many other unknown things are hiding in those old images.

      Probably millions. It's called 'precovery' - very often, once you discover something new, you'll find that it has already been photographed half a dozen times and been completely ignored. Consider the planet Neptune, discovered in 1846: it turns out that it had already been observed by Galileo, twice, in the course of his studies of Jupiter. He mistook it for a star, although he noted that it appeared to move very slightly relative to other stars.

    • Re:I wonder ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by jschen (1249578) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @11:32AM (#27022951)
      Probably lots. In all fields of science, major discoveries often do not get credited to the first person (or instrument, in this case) to observe something. The credit goes to the first person who both recognizes the significance of what they observed and shares with the world. Newton was not the first to observe objects falling down. He was the first to truly understand the scientific significance of that observation. Fleming was not the first to observe the antibacterial properties of Penicillum mold (which led to the development of penicillin). He wasn't even the first to document it. But he was the first to follow up on it in a major way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... how many other unknown things are hiding in those old images.

      Hey, I found Waldo!

    • Where's Wall-E
  • blinders (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gobbo (567674) <wrewrite@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Saturday February 28, 2009 @07:30AM (#27021887) Journal

    Given that we only perceive a tiny slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, and rely on baryonic matter to map things out, and we're just starting to get good instrumentation, is this any surprise?

    I'm regularly frustrated by the subtle hubris of completeness that underlies so many scientific assertions. It's as though we continually forget that science is fundamentally provisional, and that we're just hominids who only recently got refrigeration.

    The nice thing about new techniques like this is that it points out that we are always missing something.

    It's like the basic flaw in Fermi's paradox: why is it so hard to believe that there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for where everyone is, and we just haven't thought of it yet because it isn't obvious to hominids? Ockham's razor suggests for most things that we just don't have the answers, so keep looking, but for Fate's sake look away from the savannah-brain you're using.

    • Re:blinders (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @07:56AM (#27021977) Journal
      "The nice thing about new techniques like this is that it points out that we are always missing something. It's like the basic flaw in Fermi's paradox..."

      There is no "flaw" in Fermi's paradox, it's an observation of an inconsistency designed to make one think about what we are missing.
    • Re:blinders (Score:5, Informative)

      by wjh31 (1372867) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @08:38AM (#27022105) Homepage
      We can only perceive a tiny slive of the EM spectrum, but we've built telescopes capable of maping the night sky from the radio of the CMB to the high energy gamma ray bursts, and everything in between
      • by gobbo (567674)

        My point is that we still interpret the data with minds shaped by our limited perspective... the telescopes may be better than last year's, but there you go assuming a kind of completeness.

        The map is not the territory.

    • by Kneo24 (688412)

      You must be thinking of something other than Ockham's razor. In the spirit of what "Ockham's razor" is, it's generally been simplified to, "The simplest explanation that covers all the facts is usually the best.", and a bunch of other similar variations.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ockhams_razor [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:blinders (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Shark (78448) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @11:12AM (#27022869)

        One of the major problems with Ockham's razor is a tendency that we have to assume that we have all the facts when we apply it.

        Otherwise, it's a great tool.

        • by Kneo24 (688412)
          Oh, I completely agree. If you don't have the necessary tools for something, and someone else does, Occam's razor can be wielded more viably for the person who has those necessary tools.
        • by gobbo (567674)

          Yes: that wonderful aphorism suggests to me that the simplest explanation is usually that we don't have all the facts that need covering, and even that the few facts that we do have are subtly or grossly misleading, in the end.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by andereandre (1362563)

      I'm regularly frustrated by the subtle hubris of completeness that underlies so many scientific assertions.

      I don't think science is to blame for that, but the oversimplified reporting of it. No serious scientist assumes completeness.

      • by gobbo (567674)

        What do you mean by 'serious'? I've met quite a few people who've published repeatedly before their peers, are well-respected experts or devoted lab rats, and show clear signs of bloody-minded reductionist or even religious dogmatism... at least in public. I rather think it has more to do with funding structures and a human weakness for religious thinking than journalism.

    • by jschen (1249578)

      I'm regularly frustrated by the subtle hubris of completeness that underlies so many scientific assertions. It's as though we continually forget that science is fundamentally provisional, and that we're just hominids who only recently got refrigeration.

      See sushi science and hamburger science [titech.ac.jp]. First published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, the author expounds on his idea that Western scientists tend to be reductionists, trying to fit all the observations into simple theories, and Eastern scientists tend to just accept results for what they are, without as much generalization. It's not that one way or the other is necessarily better; they're complimentary methods of looking at something, and both viewpoints have their place.

  • Gemini planet imager (Score:5, Interesting)

    by worip (1463581) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @07:31AM (#27021891)
    Keep them coming! One more place to point the Gemini planet imager in 2010 http://gpi.berkeley.edu/index.html [berkeley.edu]
    Once we can do direct imaging, we can sample the planet spectra, and determine the atmosphere, composition, etc.
    • by wjh31 (1372867)
      Then all we need to do is master interstella travel !
    • from sig:
      A picture is worth exactly 1024 words.

      That may be, but even a simple picture generally costs several dozen more k than a plaintext description.

      Content is related to topic. Sort of.

  • by Timesprout (579035) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @07:57AM (#27021987)
    Its camouflage just broke for a minute!. I say we leave it well alone!
  • 1- Gather data
    2- Analyse data
    3- ???
    4- Profit!
    5- New processing methods are found
    6- Go to 2

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:06AM (#27022191)
    TFA says it works by "modeling" the distribution of the star's light halo and subtracting that modeled glow from the actual image. So basically it's just like fitting a radial distribution on the star and subtracting, am I right? We couldn't do that ten years ago? I hope there's more to it, and if there is, I'd be interested to hear more about it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ogre7299 (229737)

      You have the basics right. But it gets complicated because anything in the light path between the star light going into the telescope until it hits the detector is going to contribute to the point spread function, or point response function. Which is basically the diffraction pattern made by a point source on the focal plane. Hubble's PSF can be a bit more complex because of the corrective optics in each instrument.

      You are right that we could do this 10 years ago, but we probably have a much better model fo

      • by 4D6963 (933028)
        I see, so that's actually more like deconvolution (using a simulated PSF) than subtraction?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The algorithm - called LOCI - is indeed slightly more sophisticated ;-)
      You can find more in the paper by Lafrenière et al. [uchicago.edu] ( 2007, ApJ 660, 770-780)

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @09:21AM (#27022235)

    Whenever anything interesting is discovered, people go to old surveys, old plates (the Harvard Sky Patrol from the 1930's tend to be especially useful) and old catalogs to see if people have seen it before. This is routinely done for asteroids, for example.

    This is how Galileo's observations of Neptune in 1612 [dioi.org] and images of the quasar 3C273 from the 1890's were found, for example.

  • Hmmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by DamienRBlack (1165691) on Saturday February 28, 2009 @10:10AM (#27022491)

    This is so ironic -- we just found Hubble in our old exoplanet image. You little humans have come so far. You should be proud, at least for the next 40 hours...

    Sincerely,
    The Hostile Aliens

  • O
      .

  • ... since knowing there's something there provides additional information that can be used to calibrate the extraction routine.

    but not visible until new knowledge could see the picture in a fresh light.

    This says it all. In fact, you could create a much simpler extraction technique consisting of a black box around the known item that meets this same standard. Can the new extraction technique do more than this? That, apparently, remains to be seen.
    • Think about it like NP-Complete problems. If you don't have the answer, it's probably going to take exponential resources to calculate it. If you have a possible answer, it only takes polynomial time to verify the correctness of the answer. While any prediscovery may not provide any new information, it will strengthen the validity of the existing information.
  • The Hubble telescope that is...
  • Dopeyish question, but are there any comprehensive or seminal texts dealing with the field of imaging (image resolution improvement) algorithms? This does not have to be limited to astronomy or still graphics.

    As a side note, I find it kind of frustrating that tools like photoshop/gimp exist, and yet there doesn't appear to be texts dedicated towards using them to help resolve images that would otherwise not be apparent.

  • More interesting would be searching for unusual things, such as unexplained changes in a stars spectrum or luminosity. What might cause such a thing? A civilization playing around with things like a dyson sphere.

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