Scientists uncover planetary disks in NASA’s Hubble archive

Washington: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have applied a new image processing technique to obtain near-infrared scattered light photos of five disks observed around young stars in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes database.

These disks are telltale evidence for newly formed planets.

Remi Soummer, of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., and his team reanalyzed the archived images and found debris disks and even determined their shapes.

The NICMOS instrument, which began collecting data in 1997, has been so cutting-edge that ground-based technology only now is beginning to match its power. Because Hubble has been in operation for almost 24 years, it provides a long baseline of high-quality archival observations.

Dean Hines of STScI said now with such new technologies in image processing, we can go back to the archive and conduct research more precisely than previously possible with NICMOS data.

He said that these findings increase the number of debris disks seen in scattered light from 18 to 23. By significantly adding to the known population and by showing the variety of shapes in these new disks, Hubble can help astronomers learn more about how planetary systems form and evolve.