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NASA Space Science

Astronomers Find Three Exoplanets In Old Hubble Images 48

Posted by timothy
from the ok-where-did-you-see-them-last dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "Using new software techniques on Hubble data from 1998, astronomers have teased out direct images of three planets orbiting the Sun-like star HR 8799, 130 light years away. These planets were discovered in 2008 using a different telescope, but had been sitting in the Hubble pictures this whole time, invisible due to their proximity to the bright star. Many other images of other stars are available, so it's entirely possible more planets will be found in this way."
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Astronomers Find Three Exoplanets In Old Hubble Images

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    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's a way to verify that your method of finding them works. This of course also implies trying the method on stars you believe not to have planets. Next, they can run their algorithm on imagery of other stars to see if they can find planets there. Re-read the last sentence of TFSummary for that:

      Many other images of other stars are available, so it's entirely possible more planets will be found in this way.

      • by gblackwo (1087063)
        I don't need to re-read the summary. If you RTFA it shows hubble data this did not originally confirm planets. Run your algorithms on the old hubble data and tell me how you get a full confirmation of an undiscovered planet without verifying it with our new techniques. If you can't, then it only serves as verification- not really finding new planets at all.
        • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:09PM (#37631216)

          I actually read the articles. Gasp! Turns out that new techniques allow for seeing the planets in the old data. ie, new data reduction/filtering methodologies improve the results coming out of the old pictures.

          1) this allows for a second source for confirmation of any suspected planets
          2) it allows for viewing orbits immediately across a multi-year span
          3) the validation of the new techniques allows for all the Hubble data to be analyzed anew with potentially much different results than the first time around.

          Think of this as looking at a drop of pond water with your eye, a magnifying glass, and then a series of pictures taken through the magnifying glass at different angles and putting together a 3-D representation of the drop in a computer.

          • by gblackwo (1087063)
            None of this involves finding new planets, only verifying, thus nullifying the title of the post. The implication that the planets were "FOUND" in the hubble data is misleading because they had already been found elsewhere.
            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              None of this involves finding new planets, only verifying, thus nullifying the title of the post. The implication that the planets were "FOUND" in the hubble data is misleading because they had already been found elsewhere.

              True, in this instance it does not involve finding new planets.

              However the method of analyzing old Hubble pictures could reveal new exoplanet candidates, which could be verified with some other method. And then it would be a method of finding new planets. Which I can believe will happen, and would be cool.

              The title is still misleading, though. It is technically correct (the planets were found in old hubble images, and today i found my house in Google Maps -- just not for the first time). But contrary to

            • by Belial6 (794905)
              The fact that you know something is in a picture doesn't mean that you didn't find it in the image. Find the object in the picture is an entire genre of games. Have you never heard of "Where's Waldo?" The object is to "Find" Waldo in every picture.
    • I'm sure they can use the technique to find others. But even if not- having Hubble "confirm" other telescope's findings is valuable too.

      It's great to find something... it's even better to confirm you really did.
    • by Eevee (535658)
      It allows a better calculation of the orbits, since there's a ten year difference in the images.
  • Planets are just hard to find or astronomers think they are rare phenomena in the universe?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      What I don't get is why every time somebody finds a planet, it makes the front page.

      We know there are many stars. We know that many stars have orbiting planets.

      Unless there's something special about a particular planet, I don't care.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:32PM (#37631610) Homepage

        What I don't get is why every time somebody finds a planet, it makes the front page. We know there are many stars. We know that many stars have orbiting planets.

        About 23 years ago - 19 since we didn't really believe the 1988 discovery at first - we didn't know a single damn one. Not how many, not what sizes, not what orbits, nothing. Granted there's 688 of them by now and we don't need every single one hitting the front page, but this is groundbreaking science in progress. We've discovered more in the last 20 years than in the 60 years before that since we found Pluto. We're now looking for Earth-like planets in Earth-like solar systems, IMO that's probably the most interesting thing in astronomy since... well, ever. Stars? Great, but nothing lives on stars. But we do know at least one form of carbon-based life that lives on planets. Or well, one planet. But if you don't like it I'm sure there's sites with more celebrity gossip and less science reporting. As far as I'm concerned this is good old fashioned news for nerds. There's plenty covering the mainstream stuff.

        • by ThorGod (456163)

          As far as I'm concerned this is good old fashioned news for nerds. There's plenty covering the mainstream stuff.

          I agree, wholeheartedly!

          For that matter, I'm not an astronomer, but I'll be damned if I don't find the search for earth-like planets more interesting than anything I'm doing...To think that in my lifetime the first potential life-bearers outside our solar system might be found...well, if I can't take a ride on a spaceship, then at least suspecting we're not alone will do.

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          I have an app with an exoplanet database. Every so often it goes "boop" and announces a new exoplanet has been detected and added to the database. It's like having a stock ticker for human awesomeness.

      • by ThorGod (456163)

        We know there are many stars. We know that many stars have orbiting planets.

        Unless there's something special about a particular planet, I don't care.

        No, no, we don't actually know how many stars have orbiting planets. This is still a very "open" question in astronomy. I know the first exoplanet was discovered very recently, maybe even less than 5 years ago. (AFAIK there's always been reason to suspect many planets exist. But general deduction gives none of the specifics.)

        Just because every science fiction story out there (practically) assumes many planetary systems doesn't mean actual, empirical evidence of extra solar planets has been around long.

      • by osu-neko (2604)

        What I don't get is why every time somebody finds a planet, it makes the front page.

        It doesn't. Not by a long shot. The vast majority of planetary discoveries are never even mentioned on /. or anyone else's front page. What makes the front page is when the discovery is unusual in some way. If you actually read the article (or, for that matter, the summary), you'd understand what exact about this story is news. Hint: It's not that a planet has been discovered.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      Planets are just hard to find or astronomers think they are rare phenomena in the universe?

      You need to go to a club and whisper this question to somebody facing away from you on the other side of the room.

      • by fusiongyro (55524)

        "Intensive purposes" are not a thing. You mean "intents and purposes." And "who cares?" is the correct form of the question: "who" is nominative, "whom" is accusative. Who cares? I care. You annoyed whom? You annoyed me.

        • "Intensive purposes" are not a thing. You mean "intents and purposes." And "who cares?" is the correct form of the question: "who" is nominative, "whom" is accusative. Who cares? I care. You annoyed whom? You annoyed me.

          I could care less. People will get the gist of these bits of phraseology, irregardless of what is technically correct.

          • by osu-neko (2604)

            I could care less. People will get the gist of these bits of phraseology, irregardless of what is technically correct.

            Eye sea watt ewe meen.

    • by BMOC (2478408)
      The interesting part is it is a "new" method to tease information out of old data. What this implies is that astronomers might be able to get clear pictures of other solar systems because they'll have records of where the planets they see now were relative to each other (and the star) in old data. So previously we were only able to see the recent pictures, telling us there were planets there. Now we'll be able to map out the orbits of what we see. That's kinda cool
      • it is cool, but I think we should expect planets it say... 90% of solar systems...
        • At the risk of being pedantic, can you have a solar system without planets? After all, I thought a solar system consists of a star and one or more planets.

          And, while I'm being a jerk, should it be a "stellar system" as solar refers to the sun?

          • Naw, you're not a jerk, you just don't know what you are talking about :) Stellar system is a small number of stars which orbit each other, bound by gravitational attraction. And about being pedantic, that's the good point, but I am not sure if all the stars in the universe have planetary systems? probably not, but I guess we will never know that for sure, so lets assume that substantial number of stars have their own planetary systems.
  • I wish they would have discussed the software and algorithms a bit more than "subtracting the star's light". Oh well.
  • The unprocessed image looks like it would make a great explosion sprite for a 16-bit era game.

  • I'm happy to keep pointing out the ludicrous nature of the exo-word as long as marketeers keep using it.
  • As any climate skeptic will tell you, mathematical models can't prove anything, so they're going to have to go and bring the planets here before they're proven to exist.

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