Hubble Finds Hidden Exoplanet

April 3, 2009

Using a powerful new image-processing technique, researchers at the University of Toronto (Ontario, Canada) have identified an exoplanet in images taken in 1998 with the Hubble Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

Using a powerful new image-processing technique, researchers at the University of Toronto (Ontario, Canada) have identified an exoplanet in images taken in 1998 with the Hubble Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

David Lafreniere, of the University of Toronto, adapted an image reconstruction technique that was first developed for ground-based observatories. Using the technique, he recovered the planet in NICMOS observations taken 10 years before the planet was discovered in images taken with the Keck and Gemini North telescopes (in 2007 and 2008).

The massive planet, estimated to be at least seven times Jupiter's mass, is 130 light-years away and orbits a young star known as HR 8799.

According to Lafreniere, "We've shown that NICMOS is more powerful than previously thought for imaging planets. Our new image-processing technique efficiently subtracts the glare from a star that spills over the coronagraph's edge, allowing us to see planets that are one-tenth the brightness of what could be detected before with Hubble."

NICMOS's view also provided new insights into the physical characteristics of the planet. This was possibly because NICMOS works at near-infrared wavelengths that are blocked by Earth's atmosphere due to absorption by water vapor.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency and is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.