Hidden Alien Planets Revealed in Old Hubble Telescope Data

Posted on January 10, 2012

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AUSTIN, Texas — When a team of researchers sifted through old data from the Hubble Space Telescope and discovered two hidden alien planets that had gone unnoticed for 13 years, they inadvertently found a new way to seek out alien worlds.

Now, astronomers are expanding their search by applying the data-mining technique to 350 other stars that were observed in 1998 by a Hubble telescope instrument called the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).

“We’re only going to look at archive data — only what there is in the NICMOS data,” said Remi Soummer, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. Soummer was a member of the research team that found visual evidence in the old Hubble data of the alien planets around the star HR 8799.

Soummer presented the technique and the exoplanet findings Monday (Jan. 9) here at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

But despite their success in examining the HR 8799 system, Soummer is hesitant to predict what else the NICMOS data could yield.

“I really hope we find something, but I don’t want to say any numbers,” Soummer told SPACE.com. “Finding planets is really hard. I hope at least one new system exists there, but it’s unlikely that we’re going to find many.”

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