Researchers Use Hubble to Detect New Giant Planet

Chalk up another breakthrough for the Hubble Space Telescope.

The orbiting science platform has detected a gaseous exoplanet three times the mass of Jupiter 25 light-years away near a star in the constellation Piscis Australis. Astronomers trained the Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys on the star Fomalhaut in 2004 to capture visible-light images of protoplanetary debris approximately 21.5 billion miles across and having a sharp inner edge, according to a statement from NASA today.

A NASA team led by Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, proposed in 2005 that the debris ring was being affected by a large planet near it. Newer data sent from Hubble in 2006 has been under study by the Kalas team for the last two years and has now been released, published in an article in the journal Science. Their research concludes that an exoplanet, dubbed Fomalhaut b, about 119 astronomical units from the star is responsible for the gravitational influence around it.

The above image (courtesy NASA) is an artist's rendering of a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut.

"Fomalhaut is the gift that keeps on giving," said team member Mark Clampin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md. "Following the unexpected discovery of its dust ring, we have now found an exoplanet at a location suggested by analysis of the dust ring's shape. The lesson for exoplanet hunters is 'follow the dust'."

NASA said future observations by Hubble's (newly revived) cameras will attempt to see the planet in infrared light and will look for evidence of water vapor clouds in the atmosphere of Fomalhaut b.

(Please see Hubble Telescope Back in the Photography Business for an entry on the Hubble's recent troubles.)


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.