The 1998 archive Hubble image of HR 8799 after image analysis - one of the star's exoplanets have been resolved (D. Lafrenière et al., ApJ Letters)
What’s just as exciting as directly imaging an exoplanet in a new observing campaign? To discover an exoplanet in an old observing campaign.
Like so many significant astronomical discoveries, archival images of the cosmos provide a valuable tool to astronomers. On its most basic level, astronomers can compare new images with images taken by the same (or different) observatory months, years or decades ago. This method can lead to the discovery of planets, asteroids and comets (when comparing two pictures of the night sky, a celestial object appears to move relative to the background stars). However, a new technique to analyse archived Hubble data in the search for exoplanets, has just revealed one of three known exoplanets orbiting the star HR 8699. The image in question was captured in 1998, when astronomers thought HR 8799 was an exoplanet-less star… Continue reading →
It would appear that yet another extrasolar planet has been directly observed!
Only last week, the Hubble Space Telescope released news that it had spotted an exoplanet orbiting the star Fomalhaut. This is the first ever direct observation of an exoplanet in optical wavelengths. On the same day, joint observations by the ground-based (adaptive optics-powered) Keck II and Gemini infrared telescopes discovered a collection of three large alien worlds orbiting a star catalogued as HR 8799.
Today, a completely different observatory appears to have discovered yet another exoplanet orbiting the hot star Beta Pictoris (in the constellation of Pictor). European Southern Observatory (ESO) astronomers have directly imaged β Pictoris b, an alien planet orbiting 8 AU from its host star.
A phenomenal achievement considering β Pictoris is over 63 light years away… Continue reading →
The day has finally come. We now have direct, infrared and optical observations of planets orbiting other stars. Yesterday, reports from two independent sources surfaced, one from the Gemini and Keck II observatories and the second from the Hubble Space Telescope. Brace yourself for an awe-inspiring display of planets orbiting two stars… Continue reading →
Hubble malfunction forces NASA to delay Atlantis launch until January (Hubblesite.org)
The fifth and final service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is to be postponed until January as a mystery malfunction on Saturday crippled the observatory’s ability to transmit data to Earth. The STS-125 mission was set to launch in two weeks so essential upgrades to Hubble could be carried out, but Space Shuttle Atlantis will have to be stood down from her Cape Canaveral launch pad until NASA engineers can get to the root of the malfunction… Continue reading →
A rare sight. Atlantis has been rolled out to its launchpad for the October 11th Hubble mission, whilst Endeavour will remain on standby in its capacity as the STS-400 rescue mission (NASA)
This is a historic photo opportunity. Rarely do we see two shuttles rolled out onto different launchpads at the same time, but this scene has an extra poignancy to it: this is the last time two shuttles will be rolled out at the same time, ever.
All set for the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission on October 10th, Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-125) will carry the crew of seven to install two new instruments on the 18-year old orbiting telescope. They will also give the observatory an in-orbit overhaul; replacing the Fine Guidance Sensor and six gyroscopes to boost the operational lifespan of Hubble till 2013.
However, due to the unusual orbit of Hubble, Atlantis must have a back-up plan that doesn’t include the International Space Station. The October mission will call up a standby rescue mission called STS-400 – in this case Endeavour – that will be readied for launch in preparation for the unlikely event of an emergency during the STS-125 Hubble repair… Continue reading →
"So what do you do?" "Oh, I'm just the Shuttle rocket engine crane operator..." (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
If you thought that Shuttle launches were easy, think again. Preparing each Shuttle launch is a laborious task, taking several months and thousands of NASA employees. Pictured above is one of Atlantis’ Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) being installed back on June 11th at Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility bay 1, and I think this image epitomizes what space flight is all about. Rocket science is complex, we know that, but when I see just how big these things are, I gain a better respect for how far we have come. Best thing is, this is an image of a 23 year old space vehicle, just imagine what the future Ares V will look like… Continue reading →
Hubble Space Telescope observation of Polaris – looking through the Oort Cloud, but not resolving any comets (Hubble)
The Oort Cloud is a mysterious entity. Located on the outskirts of the Solar System, this hypothetical region is probably the source of the long-period comets that occasionally pass through the inner planets’ orbits. The strange thing about these comets is that they have orbits inclined at pretty much any angle from the ecliptic which suggests their source isn’t a belt confined to the ecliptic plane (like the asteroid belt or Kuiper belt). Therefore, their proposed source is a cloud, acting like a shell, surrounding the Solar System.
OK, so we think the Oort Cloud is out there, and there is a lot of evidence supporting this, but why can’t we see the Oort Cloud objects? After all, the Hubble Space Telescope routinely images deep space objects like stars, galaxies and clusters, why can’t we use it to see embryonic comets within our own stellar neighbourhood? Continue reading →