Hubble harvest 100 new planets
July 1, 2004 10:31 PM   Subscribe

Hubble harvests 100 new planets during a 7-day sweep of the bulge of the Milky Way.. If confirmed it would almost double the number of known planets to about 230. "I think this work has the potential to be the most significant advance in discovering extra-solar planetary systems since the first planets were discovered in the mid-1990s."
posted by stbalbach (17 comments total)
To me, this says more about how little we know than how much is out there. I recall a time when there were no discovered planets outside our solar system, and then the headline-making discovery of one. Now we're bringing them in, hundreds at a time. How long until we find one that's class-M and Republican-free?
posted by scarabic at 11:50 PM on July 1, 2004

The real question is "how long until we can get to one?"

So far, the answer isn't encouraging.
posted by Lafe at 12:05 AM on July 2, 2004

I am willing to bet that if we hadn't gone and invaded Iraq, we would have been able to save Hubble.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:31 AM on July 2, 2004

Kwantsar's comment is depressingly true.
posted by interrobang at 1:21 AM on July 2, 2004

Yes. I too find it rather depressing that Kwantsar would be willing to bet that if we hadn't gone and invaded Iraq, we would have been able to save Hubble.
posted by ed\26h at 1:36 AM on July 2, 2004

While this is a great piece of science done by the Hubble team, I can't help but think that the headlines that have gone round the world were designed to put pressure on NASA to save Hubble.

Cynical? Moi?
posted by salmacis at 2:01 AM on July 2, 2004

only as cynical as me.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:29 AM on July 2, 2004

Putting pressure on NASA to save Hubble is cynical how, exactly?
posted by alumshubby at 4:39 AM on July 2, 2004

Hubble's an odd question. The costs of maintenance are enormous -- but without that maintenance ability, the entire craft would have been a disaster.

The problem now. We have, by and large, fixed the optical problem. Thankfully, it was a very accurate screwup, which meant we could correct it with more optics. The astronomical community has gotten very used to Hubble's unique abilities, and when the time came to design the next space telescope, it wasn't built to replace Hubble, but to compliment it.

The James Webb Space Telescope is built to do cosmology -- the study of the history and creation (if there was a creation) of the Universe. It's built to look as far away in space (and, thanks to the speed of light, as far back in time) as it possibly can. This means it is optimized for the medium IR band, not the near IR/Visual light bands that HST works at.

This is why the Hubble Service Missions became so important. With HST on orbit and active, and with various upgraded instruments, it becomes a valuable compliment to the JWST and to ground based observatories. Cleverness, including Adaptive Optics and spin casting of mirrors, has allowed much larger ground telescopes to be built, and allowed those scopes to take much sharper pictures, despite the atmospheric turbulence they look through. But they can't do some things that only Hubble can.

We've also spent nearly $200 dollars building up new instruments for the Hubble. They're ready to go.

In many way, though, we have to consider HST a boondoggle. The costs have been huge -- mostly because of the Shuttle, but still. Between the initial launch and several maintenance missions, we've spent nigh on $10 billion over years on HST -- and the costs of two more missions (the final maintenance mission and the disposal mission) may be over $2 billion more. The idea of on-orbit refurbishment sounds good, but until the costs to put the men up to fix the 'scope drop, it's just not feasible. For the money we've spent on the HST, we could have launched several disposable 'scopes -- and possibly have gotten even more science out of them.

Still, you can't argue with the science we have gotten out of the Hubble Space Telescope.
posted by eriko at 6:31 AM on July 2, 2004

Another subject. I'd recently seen an argument against SETI that went as such. "We're seeing all this planets. They're all large gas giants in close orbit. We know this is a bad combo for life. Since this is so common, orbits like ours are rare, therefore, ETI is very unlikely."

The problem, in analogy. I can only detect items that are blue. Items that are red may have money in them. Therefore, since all I see are blue items, there is no money out there.

The various tricks we use to detects extra solar planets are working at the edge of the detector's abilities. "Hot gas giants" -- gas giants that are in close orbits around the star -- cause the biggest deviations in the star's observations, so they're the ones we can see. An earth-like planet in an earth-like orbit can't be detected -- its influence is too small.

Just because I can't see red items doesn't mean they aren't there. It means, only, that I can't see them.
posted by eriko at 6:36 AM on July 2, 2004

> We've also spent nearly $200 dollars building up new instruments for the Hubble.

Quite cheap. I think I'll go build some new instruments for the Hubble too. ",
posted by brownpau at 6:47 AM on July 2, 2004

eriko: Now I have a mental image of a tiny satellite in orbit alongside hubble with a "Hubble Rules" banner on it.
posted by fvw at 7:25 AM on July 2, 2004

Okay all you astronomers; perhaps this is better posed on but I'll ask it anyway.

Go back to the big bang and you start off with a single point that exploded and has kept on expanding. So when you look back in time by way of observing distant places would you not end up looking at exactly the same place (the point) no matter which direction you looked ?
posted by zeoslap at 7:31 AM on July 2, 2004

I think we are letting the Hubble die for good reasons. Because we can now build ground-based scopes that are better than Hubble and cheaper than Hubble. And we can build space-based scopes that are way way better. But those projects can't move forward with Hubble sucking up the funds. That's how I understand it anyway.
posted by stbalbach at 10:20 AM on July 2, 2004

Because we can now build ground-based scopes that are better than Hubble and cheaper than Hubble.

Except, in many ways, we can't. Adaptive optics does help, but only somewhat, and there's a large number of frequencies that just don't make it to the ground. IR and UV observations simply can't be done from the ground.

Another trick. Hubble, floating in space, is a remarkably stable platform (even more so after the panels were replaced) and can stay locked on target for remarkable periods of time. First, this gave us the The Hubble Deep Field in 1996, and the The Hubble Deep Field-South in 1988. In 2004, using a much newer instrument, they captured The Hubble Ultra Deep Field", a staggering million second long exposure.

You can't do that sort of thing on the ground, even if you tried to integrate over multiple nights.

And that's another point. The mirror is 20 years old, but none of the instruments on board are. The Advanced Camera for Surveys was installed in 2002. The replacement for the current WFPC2 camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 was one of the two instruments slated to be installed. The main imager on WFC3 is a 4096x4096 Near UV to Near IR (200-1000nm) and the other imager is a 1024x1024 IR imager (800-1700nm).

This is a fully modern CCD set -- operated without atmosphere, and at orbital temperatures. The only thing the HST can't give us that that the ground 'scope can is apature -- but it can give us lots that we can't get on the ground.

Now, I'm all for replacing Hubble with a new optical orbital scope. But that's even less likely to happen than Service Mission 4.
posted by eriko at 12:21 PM on July 2, 2004

zeoslap -- yes, sort of. If the universe is infinite, though, it was always infinite (it was just near-infinitely dense at the beginning). Also, the universe is opaque beyond a certain point / before a certain time (roughly 500,000 years after the big bang, IIRC).
posted by Tlogmer at 5:02 PM on July 2, 2004

the 'purity' of scientific research is being devalued by scientists who either make startling discoveries or warn of terrible new dangers just around funding time.

that why i'm cynical.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:31 PM on July 2, 2004

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