A first! Hubble images a distant planet 160 light years away, sees clouds

Last week it was the discovery of gravity waves, this week it’s seeing clouds on a distant planet for the first time. What an exciting time in astronomy!

In a Hubble first, UA astronomers take images of an exoplanet changing over time
By using a novel imaging technique, UA astronomers have discovered that the exoplanet known as 2M1207b rotates twice as fast as Earth and has patchy clouds

From the UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

This graph shows changes in the infrared brightness of 2M1207b as measured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Over the course of the 10-hour observation, the planet showed a change in brightness, suggesting the presence of patchy clouds that influence the amount of infrared radiation observed as the planet rotates. CREDIT NASA, ESA, Y. Zhou (University of Arizona), and P. Jeffries (STScI)

This graph shows changes in the infrared brightness of 2M1207b as measured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Over the course of the 10-hour observation, the planet showed a change in brightness, suggesting the presence of patchy clouds that influence the amount of infrared radiation observed as the planet rotates. CREDIT NASA, ESA, Y. Zhou (University of Arizona), and P. Jeffries (STScI)

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers at the University of Arizona have taken the first direct, time-resolved images of an exoplanet. Their results were published today inThe Astrophysical Journal.

The young, gaseous exoplanet known as 2M1207b, located some 160 light-years from Earth, is four times the mass of Jupiter and orbits a failed star, known to astronomers as a brown dwarf. And while our solar system is 4.5 billion years in the making, 2M1207b is a mere ten million years old. Its days are short–less than 11 hours–and its temperature is hot–a blistering 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Its rain showers come in the form of liquid iron and glass.

The researchers, led by UA Department of Astronomy graduate student Yifan Zhou, were able to deduce the exoplanet’s rotational period and better understand its atmospheric properties–including its patchy clouds–by taking 160 images of the target over the course of ten hours. Their work was made possible by the high resolution and high contrast imaging capabilities of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

“Understanding the exoplanet’s atmosphere was one of the key goals for us. This can help us understand how its clouds form and if they are homogenous or heterogeneous across the planet,” said Zhou.

Before now, nobody had ever used 26-year-old Hubble to create time-resolved images of an exoplanet.

Even the largest telescope on Earth could not snap a sharp photo of a planet as far away as 2M1207b, so the astronomers created an innovative, new way to map its clouds without actually seeing them in sharp relief: They measured its changing brightness over time.

Daniel Apai, UA assistant professor of astronomy and planetary sciences, is the lead investigator of this Hubble program. He said, “The result is very exciting. It gives us a new technique to explore the atmospheres of exoplanets.”

According to Apai, this new imaging technique provides a “method to map exoplanets” and is “an important step for understanding and placing our planets in context.” Our Solar System has a relatively limited sampling of planets, and there is no planet as hot or as massive as 2M1207b within it.

Steward Observatory Astronomer Glenn Schneider and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Professor Adam Showman coauthored the study.

“2M1207b is likely just the first of many exoplanets we will now be able to characterize and map,” said Schneider.

“Do these exotic worlds have banded cloud patterns like Jupiter? How is the weather and climate on these extremely hot worlds similar to or different from that of the colder planets in our own solar system? Observations like these are key to answering these questions,” said Showman.

Zhou and his collaborators began collecting data for this project in 2014. It began as a pilot study to demonstrate that space telescopes like Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA will launch in late 2018, can be used to map clouds on other planets.

The success of this study lead to a new, larger program: Hubble’s Cloud Atlas program for which Apai is also the lead investigator. As one of Hubble’s largest exoplanet-focused programs, Cloud Atlas represents a collaboration between 14 experts from across the globe, who are now creating more time-resolved images of other planets using the space telescope.

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183 thoughts on “A first! Hubble images a distant planet 160 light years away, sees clouds

  1. Absolutely amazing.

    With all the awful things going on in the world its so wonderful to be able to wake up to fresh discoveries like this.

    • It is lovely to see that there are still people in the world who understand the objective of real science too.

      • Real vs Political Science. How refreshing.

        Real Science – free from a demand for tithing and faith based belief and devoid of the character assassination of non-believers

      • So now what do you see if you do a similar study of a nearby planet, namely Jupiter.

        What sort of time resolved brightness variations can we see on Jupiter, and what do these exo-clouds rain down on the planet when they rain ?

        G

      • George Smith on the moon Titan, it rains liquid CH4 (methane) but much more interesting would what are the clouds on Venus. Some say they could be SO2 or some combined molecule of SO2 & CO2 but the amount of SO2 in the atmosphere is not enough to make up the clouds. It is possible some of the clouds are solid CO2 (dry ice) which could form at the cloud temperatures and the high pressure. However, while there is some information on the composition of the atmosphere at various heights there is no definite information from measurements on the composition of the clouds

      • John Silver,

        They speak as if the clouds were merely an explanation for brightness variations, not as if they actually imaged clouds.

        Considering they were using infrared frequencies, they probably did not even resolve a disk, just a pinpoint of varying brightness.

        Of course, taking pics of short duration rather than extended time lapse photos is the key development here.

        SR

      • @george e. smith

        So now what do you see if you do a similar study of a nearby planet, namely Jupiter.

        Actually the UA team who produced these images used Jupiter to “calibrate” their techique. Evidently they were able to reproduce Jupiter’s clouds accurately, including the famous “red spot”.

        Look at the pdf file in my reply link below:
        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/02/18/hubble-images-a-distant-planet-160-light-years-away-sees-clouds/?replytocom=2148866#respond

        Start at slides #46 & ff, which are titled “How Accurately Can We Map Clouds from Lightcurves?”

      • Thanx to johannus for the Jupiter calibration info.

        That’s why we ask questions so if somebody knows, we can all learn.

        G

      • you forgot the /sarc tag Ben. Seriously, if there was anything to it, don’t you think the billion of cameras we all carry with us would have captured something substantive by now?

      • “the billion of cameras we all carry with us would have captured something substantive by now?”
        The images are almost always fuzzy because of the plasma. Even when not then it must have been a hoax (as some are) so really, why bother to show around, not worth the eye rolls. Eye witnesses are “Just more conspiracy nuts” who badly need eyesight correction or are susceptible to hysteria providing automatic dismissal which is fine with the world gov’s. The FAA even modified pilot rules so that reporting has to be referred to local authorities or UFO investigation centers as the FAA no longer has official interest (can’t see that happening without a lot of flack).. Even if a close call occurs, no one is going to admit to anything and I’m sure that if more occurred it would just be officially blamed on some freak accident. Amazing that even pilots and military personnel who are used to being around all kinds of aircraft no longer count and are equivalently ridiculed.
        It is amazing that Hubble, which required such delicate and complex repairs when first orbited has been so very useful after all this time.
        http://www.space.com/23640-hubble-space-telescope-repair-anniversary.html

    • You are tricked! There are many other explanations to observed variation of brightness. Assistant Professor… working hard to obtain his tenured position with salary forever… seemingly of foreign origin trying to make here… Well, not to be cynical, but all prerequisites for academic scam. Same as this gravitational wave “confirmation” based on just one measurement. This is just entertainment to make you feel fresh in the morning – does it dererve your tax $$ that will go the support job for life for Drs Zhou and Apai?

      • Unless you have evidence of the accusations you’re making, all you’re doing is slinging xenophobic aspersions on a guy smarter than you for trolling purposes. You claim “many other explainations” – care to share your mathematical analysis or a pre-print of your peer-reviewed research paper based on your own data? Oh, right. No, you’re just a guy in a comment box.

  2. …” and its temperature is hot–a blistering 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Its rain showers come in the form of liquid iron and glass.” ???

    OMG…I think they just found HeII !!

    • It’s only a matter of time before some alarmist somewhere shouts that this is what’s going to happen here if we don’t hurry up and hand over all our money and all control.

  3. I find this absolutely unimpressive. How does this help anyone or anything on the planet we currently live on? The money spent on this could have been put to much efficient and effective use.

    • There speaks a man with his feet stuck in the mud and his head stuck in the sand…. or up his….. (inset suitable body part of your own choosing)

      • Give me one example of something that has directly benefited mankind that could not possibly have been invented without going into space.

      • Sly….there is a modicum of truth/wisdom in what Chris states and I also understand your reply.

        My thinking: NASA should be spending 100% of time and money on the dangerous asteroid/comets – not only to find them all and track their orbits, but to work on a method to stop one of those objects from slamming into earth. After that is accomplished, then they can do whatever.

      • First of all, let me say that while I’m not amazed by this specific feat, I can remember less than three decades ago when we were not certain that any exoplanets existed and conventional wisdom was that it might well be centuries before any could be confirmed. Maybe never. The progress has been incredible

        That said — reality is that the space program did not develop Teflon (Dupont 1938). Neither did it develop integrated circuits. The transistor was invented in 1947 at BTL and the idea of integrating multiple transistors on one substrate seems to have immediately occurred to a bunch of people soon thereafter. The first real ICs were built around 1957 and simple RTL ICs were quickly incorporated into digital computers.

        WRT to Hubble’s mirrors. Perkin-Elmer is said to have had some experience building big mirrors for spaceborne telescopes that were used for purposes other than astronomy. But that probably wasn’t the issue. There’s an interesting and very readable article here: http://www.cio.com.au/article/420036/what_went_wrong_hubble_space_telescope_what_managers_can_learn_from_it_/

      • As I read the question, it said: That could not possibly have been invented without going into space.

        GPS, integrated circuits, velcro, and Tang may have been (quite expensive) spinoffs, but they certainly could have been invented anyway.

        It may be nice to know about a far off planet’s clouds, but I’d prefer that some other curious person pay for it, rather than my involuntary “contribution.”

      • Simple: radio communication for one.

        And no, you don’t need to go beyond the ionosphere out into space.

        G

      • Letter writing down under was pencils only prior to zero G pens.

        But seriously, obtaining samples of moon rocks and comets has certainly been useful to understanding geochemistry and development of the solar system if your definition of, “direct benefit to humans” stretches that far (mine does).

        And close up imagery of planets from flybys radically altered perceptions when I was a boy. That was a biggie for us kids. No way you’re telling me that wasn’t worth it. Plus learning about magnetic belts and radiation, particles and solar wind effects, plus moving a probe out of the heliosphere. And also discovering how long well engineered electronics and power systems could last in space was a shock.

        I suppose you would argue those were not of direct benefit, but that’s not how I see it, that’s our future extended habitat or part of getting to it … or not. But of we don’t try it sure won’t be. Maybe not our generation, maybe not the next either, but maybe the one after that, or the one after that has a real shot of moving outward the radius of direct human benefits.

        The idea of giving up and settling for less is alien to most (but not all) humans. I suppose that’s a part of natural variability as well.

      • Sputnik had a profound effect upon my secondary education. Money came pouring into the school science program, vastly improving the quality of the science programs to which I was exposed. Probably was the reason I chose the sciences for my collegiate education and career. I’m told now, by many former students, that my teaching sparked their interest in science as well. I’d say that was a pretty direct effect on humanity from space experimentation, or at least from the fear of being beaten by the Russians in space.

      • “NASA did significant funding for the development of integrated circuits.”

        NASA bought large numbers (relative to production levels) of early ICs, and helped manufacturers improve quality control, because they couldn’t afford to have an IC fail in Lunar orbit. But they already existed, and would have become important without NASA. In the worst case, we might be running i7-3770s instead of i7-6700s.

      • Well if we hadn’t gone to space, we wouldn’t have the RSS / UAH datasets to disprove CAGW. Imagine how much mis allocation of resources would be occurring if we relied on the pause-busting terrestrial datasets?

      • The large amount of computer coding required in the early space program helped formulate some of the concepts still used in software engineering.

      • I like the idea of space exploration and all, but seriously, people didn’t suddenly start being inventive because of it.

        vukcevic, writes;

        “not to forget cordless rechargeable drills and other tools initially made for astronauts to do external repairs during space ‘walk’.”

        Well I googled up this in about ten seconds;

        “The first cordless tool was actually invented by Robert Ridley, Jr while working at Black & Decker. Ridley was trying to solve a problem of on-site power for the installation of aluminum windows. His work focused on battery technology for drills that would allow workman to complete installations without an additional source of electricity. A patent application was filed in 1961 on his invention and granted in 1965. Black and Decker introduced the first cordless drill to the market in 1961 and followed in 1962 with the first cordless outdoor tool the cordless hedge trimmer.

        Martin Marietta contracted with Black and Decker in the mid-to late 1960’s to develop a range of cordless tools for the space program. NASA did not invent the first cordless tool, but funded Martin Marietta who in turn contracted with Black & Decker to further develop cordless tools for use on space missions.”

        I suggest folks knock off the dreamy attitude, and realize that humans were prolly gonna keep right on inventing/developing stuff regardless of the space program.

      • Sorry Anthony, the integrated circuit was already under development. The best you can say about the space program is that it accelerated the deployment by a few years.

      • Sorry Anthony, the integrated circuit was already under development. The best you can say about the space program is that it accelerated the deployment by a few years.

        My experience (from my time at Harris Semiconductor from 79-82 one of said companies involved) was it was probably more than that, serendipity could make that 5 or outside even longer.
        I know Harris did a lot of work studying the effects of radiation on Semiconductors, might have been the only maker of a Dielectric Isolated Bi-Polar IC process, these were really big in the oil fields. Plus one of the more advanced CMOS manufacturers when a lot of it was metal gate, Harris was making poly-silicon gate devices. One of the few 6T memory cell architecture makes big in space where a charged particle strike could flip the bit in a 4T cell.

      • One of the few 6T memory cell architecture makes big in space where a charged particle strike could flip the bit in a 4T cell.

        One of the few 6T memory cell architecture makers, big in space where a charged particle strike could flip the bit in a 4T cell.

    • The cost of professional sports dwarfs the costs of space exploration. What economic benefit do we accrue from pro sports? Or painting, sculpture, movies etc?

      • Don Perry,

        In your 07:13pm post, I mused over “….or at least from the fear of being beaten by the Russians in space.”

        A bit sad, but if space explorations is characterised as a competitive activity, then AFAIK the Russians appear to have beaten the US comprehensively. Who was the first up there? And is it true that the only rocketry that can get commercial satellites up, including servicing the International Space Station, happens to be Russian?

        With regard to the thread topic, it is a stroke of genius to realise that twinkles exist in other atmospheres, and can tell us so much.

      • Painting tells us what people thought the universe was like before we had the means to observe it. Not necessarily referring to 1400’s flat earth depictions either, take a look at some of the SF illustrations of the 1950’s. These give us a benchmark as to how far our understanding has actually progressed.

        Understanding the universe is important, because it is one of the key factors in dismissing the religious hocus-pocus that otherwise poisons peoples’ minds. Would we have the present conflict in Syria if we had a fuller understanding of the universe? Not sure, but I think it would be less likely.

    • You don’t think Man’s thirst for knowledge is important to our Hopes, dreams and aspirations? Without such research, without such endeavour, we would still be sitting under trees and wondering what was over the next hill, or not.

      It is this thirst, this quest, that defines many of us. It is constant whingeing that defines many others.

      • Facebook and Titter for two. Before that, nobody had enough idle time on their hands to waste with finger toys; people were trying to make a living.

        Now 47% of the people in the US don’t even have to work, and that number just keeps going up.

        It will be well beyond the 50% tipping point by the time Obummer retires back to Kenya, of Indonesia.

        G

    • So many discoveries of this kind to yet be made, and we waste trillions on climate pseudo-science so the likes of Mann can create phony graphs to support a “hypothesis” (CAGW) that has been soundly falsified. The waste is depressing.

    • At some point we’re going to obtain direct observations of a familiar looking blue and green orb.

      Would that not immediate take your breath away? Cause you to re-evaluate our place in the universe? The meaning of life?

      • No, they’re not going to find a familiar blue & green orb, or at least one with anything like intelligent life on it. Anywhere. Ever. And contemplating that does take my breath away, and constantly re-evaluate the meaning of life and our place in the universe.

        The circumstances that came together to allow life to begin and evolve on Earth are so unique and at such astronomical odds that it can quite easily be regarded as a once in a galaxy event, and plausibly a once in universe event. And that’s before you factor in the odds against the leap to multicellular complexity and from there to intelligence. Bottom line, there may, just possibly, be bacteria out there, somewhere, but there is nothing to communicate with.

      • Colin – I distinctly remember meeting a number of astronomers three decades ago who said almost exactly the same about exoplanets in general.

      • george e. smith,

        Who says life has a meaning ?

        I do (for one).

        Please explain if you can, why that simple assertion by any living being doesn’t utterly destroy any contention that it does not, please.

      • dwestonfront: Would you care to name these scientists who claimed there were no exo-planets?

        PS: Just because one person was wrong 30 years ago, is not evidence that someone else is wrong today.
        If you think Colin is wrong, refute his arguments.

    • This is what NASA should be all about – exploring our universe rather that exploring different methods of propaganda to enhance the climate change nonsense.

    • I bet you any money you like that gambling worldwide (110 Billion dollars) is a lot more than the cumulative cost of the Hubble Space Telescope (10 Billion).

      Regards
      Climate Heretic
      PS Guess where my money is being spent?

    • It’s like manned space travel, the way I see it. You can argue all you like about how satellite tech was the way to go in terms of bang for the buck. And I don’t even disagree. But if we had an active, heavily manned program, cost overheads would be way down and there’d be five times times as many bangs and ten times as many bucks. Human nature is.

      • You are right on all those points.

        If we lose our curiosity and desire to explore, our species is doomed. So, we musn’t lose our sense of the future, which is space. There is no future on this planet alone.

        Besides, all those people who argue against the meager wages NASA is paid, shouldn’t be shown what is being thrown uselessly, for little or no ROI, into healthcare costs. Those are scary numbers. By the way, the US had the 3rd highest per capita spending on healthcare in 2013 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PCAP?order=wbapi_data_value_2013+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=desc (17.7% of the total US GDP, second only behind… Tuvalu?), yet we have 2 years less life expectancy then the average European country.

    • How about weather satellites. They have already saved millions of lives on earth by predicting the paths of cyclones, hurricanes, etc. and will continue to do so forever. These alone justify all the money spent on space.

      • Millions of lives is an exaggeration. But weather satellites really are very important even if it hard to come up with a meaningful number for their value. Same with various resource measurement and mapping satellites. GPS (a military program, not NASA) is also very important and useful. And communication satellites. I personally think the economics of those is so favorable that they would have been developed eventually even if there were no government funding at all for space science, and no military missile and satellite programs. Could be wrong about that.

        And I think Don Perry is likely right about the post-Sputnik boost to US science education.

        But most of the other claims being made about useful fallout from the space programs simply aren’t so.

        – Teflon and Velcro: Invented around 1940
        – Tang: An off the shelf product
        – Cordless drills. You could buy them off the shelf in 1961. (As I recall, the battery life was truly dismal)
        – Integrated circuits. So far as I know, No NASA funding was not important. Military funding could possibly have been but if so, it was classified. NASA and the military were very important customers though. Maybe the military more than NASA because for aircraft and missile applications, a sale to them meant a lot more units than a sale to NASA.
        . The military space/abm programs (not NASA) were the major customer for early supercomputers. In fact, they were pretty much the only customer other than a few oil companies.

      • ” – Integrated circuits. So far as I know, No NASA funding was not important. Military funding could possibly have been but if so, it was classified. NASA and the military were very important customers though. Maybe the military more than NASA because for aircraft and missile applications, a sale to them meant a lot more units than a sale to NASA.”
        NASA spent a lot of money on custom integrated circuits, and or pushing for radiation resistance IC’s at least, at a place in Melbourne Florida, which later changed its name to Harris Semiconductor.
        Harris made 6 transistor cell cmos memories, the one of the few how did as they were the only stable memories for use in space, other commercial memories were not usable in space due to radiation induced bit changes, as well as radiation induced changes to Mos fets threshold voltage.
        Hence their original name, Radiation.

    • How does this help anyone or anything on the planet we currently live on?

      You are absolutely right. We should stop spending money frivolously. No more parks. No more professional sports. Television is a complete waste of time. Luxury goods are criminal while there are starving people living in the world. Everyone has too much stuff. We have to cut back on stuff. Really, we should never have come down out of the trees. Gaia is dying. The world would be much better without people. We are damaging the environment. We are a parasite and should be eradicated. /sarc

      Seriously though; utilitarianism is pretty soul sucking and doesn’t work well as an economic system. I like the following quote from Pope John Paul II.

      “Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used.”

      • george e. smith says:
        February 18, 2016 at 4:27 pm

        Geez george. Are you saying that you think Utilitarianism is a good system? That would make you a much better commie than me.

    • ” The money spent on this could have been put to much efficient and effective use.”

      Yeah, like for more wind and solar farms?

    • Christopher
      Utter wrongheadedness.
      Space exploration doesn’t cause hunger, poverty, disease, lack of good plumbing or anything else you can think of that negatively affects humans on this planet.

      And really, on a science site??? You don’t think space science is important.
      Perhaps you make a wrong turn in Albuquerque

    • Judas said something along the same lines to Jesus when the woman anointed him with very expensive perfume.

      James Bull

    • Christopher Paino says: February 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm I find this absolutely unimpressive. How does this help anyone or anything on the planet we currently live on? The money spent on this could have been put to much efficient and effective use.
      ….
      Monkeys reach for bananas; humans reach for the stars.

      Or would you rather be a mule?

  4. I am great admirer of the Hubble telescope and its amazing images, beats ‘gravitational wave’ (if they found one, that is) any day. Followed its initial tribulations from the day one, fixing it was a great science and engineering triumph. It is time the NASA started planning for a new even more powerful one.

    • Easily paid for by de-funding “climate research”. The “science is settled” anyway; nothing more to learned about climate, we know what it will be in the future.

    • I read somewhere that Hubble was left over from the network of spy satellites, which was why its optical lenses had to be reset, so maybe there will be a spare satellite from the next generation of spy satellites.

      • Brent: the optical error on the Hubble was caused by a chip of paint bolted between what should have been two perfectly clean surfaces. It made the spherical mirror slightly larger in radius. The biggest mistake was not testing it before launch. So we invented due diligence^3.

      • “Crispin: the optical error on the Hubble was caused by a chip of paint bolted between what should have been two perfectly clean surfaces. It made the spherical mirror slightly larger in radius. The biggest mistake was not testing it before launch. So we invented due diligence.”

        Might be true, but the quasi-official story is a bit different. I linked to it way up thread. That story is that the problem was a tiny flap of electrical tape that caused the tool used to make the mirror to be misaligned. They actually did test the mirror, and had problems, but they attributed the problems to difficulties in adjusting the mirror which had to focus in zero gravity to focus properly in a ground based lab. It’s a really plausible story. Could be true.

        The link is http://www.cio.com.au/article/420036/what_went_wrong_hubble_space_telescope_what_managers_can_learn_from_it_/

    • You’ve heard of the James Webb space telescope perhaps? http://jwst.nasa.gov/index.html It will be a massive leap forward from even the mighty Hubble. As for gravitational wave astronomy you could not be more wrong. They have indeed observed gravitational waves for the first time and opened up a brand new window offering stunning vistas of new information of a completely different kind never before accessed.

      • I bet all the oppressed people in the world are just overjoyed that have these new stunning vistas to look at while they starve. Makes the time just fly by!

        When your house is on fire, do you go looking for a new car?

      • Christopher, you’re oppressing me and I find your words offensive in the extreme. I know my rights and shall retire to the WUWT safe space to suck on a corner of my PC blanket and I’m not coming out until you’ve gone away you horrid man *rasp*

      • “I bet all the oppressed people in the world are just overjoyed that have these new stunning vistas to look at while they starve. ”

        Yeah, let’s stop all scientific inquiry until the “oppressed” are free.

      • cephus0

        The more interesting thing is that the waves proves there is an ether – of a sort – and Einstein formulated his theories in an effort to prove that was no need for an ether to explain the universe. He was very hostile to the idea of something ethereal. He promoted the concept of empty space which, like phlogiston, doesn’t exist. Gravity waves are propagated by the ‘ether’ which people gave other names to in order to hide the fact there is a propagating medium that used to be called the ether. The fact that it doesn’t exhibit the properties of a gas doesn’t change its reality.

        So his big prediction successfully proves his big motive was incorrect.

      • Christopher Paino says: February 18, 2016 at 2:36 pm … When your house is on fire, do you go looking for a new car?
        But my house isn’t on fire, and neither is yours, I’d bet.

    • I was sitting in a NASA break room watching the first Hubble solar panel get stuck, as well as did some work the electronic design team, even visited the Hubble control center while it was not yet in use.

  5. Amazing but no postscript like oh I don’t know say if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels this is how earth will be in 2030? Lol.

  6. 160 light years?

    I won’t going too soon. “They” may be able to watch the Carrington event occur here on earth ….if “they” are watching….. if there are liquid glass beings…if…

    • I would be in favor of making a “larger” hubble-like telescope. I bet the images would be fantastic. Say 100X the width of hubble?

      • The Hubble mirror is 2.4m in diameter. The EELT which is being built in Chile and is currently planned to come up in 2024 will be 40 meters in diameter = 277 time the area of Hubble. Cost – about $1.3B That is vs $8B+ for the James T Webb space telescope. (which is years late and spectacularly over budget)

    • Yeah … I’m pretty sure that image is just Jupiter, shaded red to look cool. Poor reporting, or a bad press release, gives the impression that the image is actually the exoplanet.

  7. I’m not sure. Looking at their data (and not the pretty artist’s renditions), all they really showed was a changing pattern of brightness. Usually when cyclical changes in the brightness of an astronomical object are observed, the first hypothesis is a darker object in orbit shadowing the target. What data excluded that null hypothesis and let them concluded that they were “map[ping] its clouds without actually seeing them”?

    • Good point.

      Oddly enough, the fluorescent light in my room dimmed and brightened repeatedly while I was reading this article. When I looked up at the ceiling I saw clouds swirling around the enclosure!

      You don’t get much limelight from a failed star.

    • Yeah, there’s no mention of if, why, or how they ruled out, say, moons to explain the changes in brightness.

      • I suspect “moon(s)” would have to be travelling awfully fast to create that much occlusion in 9 hours. I wonder if they considered a tidal surface of liquid metal among the possibilities?

    • That’s the first thing that crossed my mind too, over that period of time it could be the tilt in the planets axis or a large moon or planet in transit.

      Cloud patterns don’t change much over short time periods on giant planets, they’ve measured a planet like Jupiter with a giant spot and noticed the cyclical pattern produced as the spot comes and goes, so they are translating this cyclical pattern in this way on the exoplanet, but there can be other reasons for the cyclical pattern and I’m not convinced they have the correct one. But it’s still impressive.

  8. It’s great.
    Just one thing – the planet ‘pictures’ showing clouds shown above the graph, they are an interpretation aren’t they? suggested from the brightness variations?

    • Indeed, those “images” are nothing more than artists renderings of what the planet might look like if we could image it.

      In looking at various headlines for this discovery (which is really more of an engineering feat), the ones for mass media consumption say “UA Astronomers take images of…”. Not true at all. More sciency sources say “UA astronomers measure rotation of…”, which is more accurate.

      Definitely being over hyped in places. Typical.

  9. 160 light years old news,
    kinda makes you wonder what has been happening in the mean time, with those 3 billion light year old galaxies whose light is only now reaching us.

  10. This optimism seems premature. We can’t even see the planet – yet. We can supply assumptions, which will derive planet’s properties from the observation of its solar system – but for me it is not reliable enough. Sort of like like predicting year 2100 climate from models.

  11. But but this is just a look into our future Co2 will surely raise the temperature of Gaia to 2000F and boil the oceans! We need a peer review study of how Co2 is speeding up the rotation of Gaia.

  12. Christopher Paino
    February 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I find this absolutely unimpressive.

    This guy is the perfect example of the type we have that want to save the planet by destroying civilization because they really want control and management and depopulation planned by elites. Why he is even visiting this site which is number one science site in the world is a mystery. Shouldn’t he be investing all his time and energy lifting up the poor instead of wasting it reading scientific stuff here and commenting on it. The best way to save the poor, my friend is to keep the engines of the world economy turning over and to spread the technology and cheap energy to the world’s poor. This of course is something you and your ideologues are steadfastly resisting.

    For your information the technological spin off from space exploration built the modern technological revolution. Also, regarding the poor, check out how Bangladesh’s economy has improved and how the poor have been gaining. This wouldn’t have been possible in a world where the engines of growth in West had been crippled as planned by the marksbrothers in the UN and other world institutions. Throw away your old sociology/anthropology/polisci books, manifestos and yellowed tracts.

    “In the past decade, the economy has grown at nearly 6 percent per year, and human development went hand-in-hand with economic growth. Poverty dropped by nearly a third, coupled with increased life expectancy, literacy, and per capita food intake. More than 15 million Bangladeshis have moved out of poverty since 1992.”

    http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/bangladesh/overview

    You didn’t think you’d learn that at the world’s premier science site did you?

  13. Can someone confirm this : THEY DID NOT take an actual picture of the planet. All they did was measure the variations in IR, and deduced that this is probably from cloud bands. The images above are artistic renderings based on that data. Once again we are given “fake science”. Yes, they measured changes in IR that are probably from cloud bands. But to produce a fake picture and publicize it as the “first picture of an exo-planet” is just as fraudulent as the Hockey Stick graph.

    • Exactly, it’s made up.
      And stacking images to brighten up astrophotography has been done for a long time, I do it, I took 40 hours of exposure of M31.

    • Considering they were using infrared, they could not have even resolved a disk, just a pinpoint of varying brightness.

      SR

  14. Christopher Paino February 18, 2016 at 2:36 pm
    “I bet all the oppressed people in the world are just overjoyed that have these new stunning vistas to look at while they starve. Makes the time just fly by!

    When your house is on fire, do you go looking for a new car?”

    Ah, Luddities, gotta love ’em. I’ll bet you’re a die hard greenie, all wood stoves, organic veggies and free range chickens. Lets stop all research, stop all inqusitiveness, unless YOU personally see an immediate return. What’s more, let’s immediately stop using ALL technology that wasn’t developed with the same intent. I hope you enjoy your cave.

  15. For others who seem to misunderstand what was done here, these are real images. Maybe I’m wrong, but to me, it seems they recorded the sine wave of the brightness to capture the period of rotation and then took multiple timed “snaps” in an additive fashion to bring up the image. This is a genius of a way to enhance the resolution of what was otherwise a swirl of changing infrared brightness.

    • My 36 Mpx Nikon D810 conjures up pictures by scanning a raster of points and observing the multispectral brightness of it, and inferring from that what was standing in front of my lens.

      Anybody ever wonder how the hell a single X-ray beam coming back from a rotating body, can reconstruct a picture of what the inside of that rotating body would look like if it wasn’t rotating ??

      Well I’m looking at it from the frame of reference of that point X-ray beam, in which that human body does appear to be rotating.

      This Hubble planet picture is just a reverse CAT scan.

      G

    • Gary, unfortunately…no, these are not “real images”. You’re correct about the detailed observation of brightness variations, but Hubble doesn’t have nearly enough aperture to resolve a planet’s disk. These scientists have assumed, probably correctly, that atmospheric changes cause the planet’s albedo to rise and fall, but they haven’t actually imaged clouds. In fact, one of the authors of the study asks the question, “Do these exotic worlds have banded cloud patterns like Jupiter?” In the illustrations accompanying the article they clearly show Jupiter-like cloud bands, but that’s speculation based on our limited sampling of gas giants.

  16. If my maths are correct we only have to travel 9,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 to get there at the speed of light!! Wonderful yes! Wondrous yes! Staggering yes! Relevance to mankind??

    • If Han Solo can make the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, then why can’t we travel to 2M1207b in 160 years or 9,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 btfsplks, or whatever units you’re using, at light speed?

  17. Ok stand back, let me fisk this for you,…

    – The young, gaseous

    Speculation, don’t know how old it is or what its made of.

    – exoplanet known as 2M1207b, located

    Yip.

    – some 160 light-years from Earth

    Hell whats a light year between friends, lets resort to far, far away,

    – is four times the mass of Jupiter

    meaningless in the scheme of things, unless you plan to move it.

    – and orbits a failed star

    let me stop you there, Brown dwarves are prolific, so not failed stars at all, its another form of organised mass…

    – known to astronomers as a brown dwarf.

    ok.

    So to be honest….

    The exoplanet known as 2M1207b located far, far away and orbits a brown dwarf.

    There,…all Fisked.

    • I’d add: Assistant Profs. Zhou and Apai made one giant step toward their tenured positions to “teach” our students “exciting” science…

  18. Question: How hot is the “failed star” that is that planet’s primary? Is the planet now hotter than its star? Should planet and star switch places? At 2600 DF, the planet would glow.

    • Never did like the term “failed star”. Some brown dwarfs are able to initiate deuterium fusion. Anyway, the brown dwarf is probably much hotter than the Super Jupiter. Stardom starts at about 60 Jupiter masses or 0.1 solar masses. What’s required is a plasma density of about 100 g/cm3 to initiate and maintain hydrogen fusion.

  19. The circumstances that came together to allow life to begin and evolve on Earth are so unique and at such astronomical odds that it can quite easily be regarded as a once in a galaxy event, and plausibly a once in universe event. And that’s before you factor in the odds against the leap to multicellular complexity and from there to intelligence. Bottom line, there may, just possibly, be bacteria out there, somewhere, but there is nothing to communicate with. —- Colin, really? With 2600 planets discovered with Occultation and Wobble methods since the first TWO in 1996, and because of the “distribution”, it is beginning to seem as though EVERY MATURE STELLAR BODY HAS PLANETS. Now, with that in mind, the chances of another “Class M” planet are??? (Fairly high. Maybe one out of one hundred million, but that would still give us 100,000 to a million EARTH LIKE PLANETS in the Milky way.

    • MaxHugoson: The circumstances that came together to allow life to begin and evolve on Earth are so unique and at such astronomical odds that it can quite easily be regarded as a once in a galaxy event, and plausibly a once in universe event.

      That’s an opinion, not a fact. It’s certainly a reasonable opinion. But the truth is that we have not the slightest idea how a package of self replicating organic compounds managed to wrap itself inside a protective wall, go forth, and multiply. Maybe it’s incredibly unlikely. Or maybe it’s something that will happen reliably in about 15 seconds if you put the right stuff in a flask at the proper temperature and pressure.

      We just don’t know. And we may not know any time soon.

      • Time – a lot of time – reduces the likelihood of your opinion being correct to vanishing small odds. Quite the contrary, the chances are that life exists in enormous abundance because of the voluminous amounts of time that the Universe has provided. Just my opinion.

      • Time – a lot of time – reduces the likelihood of your opinion being correct to vanishing small odds. Quite the contrary, the chances are that life exists in enormous abundance because of the voluminous amounts of time that the Universe has provided. Just my opinion.

        And the fact we’re here on an seemingly ordinary planet means there is a 100% chance life not only exists, it is probably quite abundant.

        Another observation, with that said, millions of earth like planets around earth like stars in the milkyway, there are an orders of magnitude more red dwarf stars in the galaxy, which too would have a Goldilocks zone, but they have less light, so eyes would evolve to be larger, and the light is in the IR range so lens would likely not pass visible light, and would look black to us.
        Does that description of such a being remind you of anything from popular culture?

      • Thank you, I have a bunch of deep space images.
        I have an extensive simulation background, and understood that GCM’s were low fidelity, but allowed that Co2 could drive temps, or be completely wrong, as it was the programmers opinion on it’s influence on temps.
        It was after spending numerous nights out setting up my scope and recording how quickly air temps dropped 15-20 F that made me realize it was likely nonsense.
        After a little while I decided surface temps should show a decline in night time cooling, if co2 was causing warming, it has to. That led me to getting the data and looking at the rate of night time cooling as compared to the prior days warming.

        And there is zero evidence for a loss of cooling when looking at station data.

  20. Velcro is the brainchild of Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral who in 1941 went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful.[1]

    The original patented hook and loop fastener was invented in 1948 by de Mestral, who patented it in 1955 and subsequently refined and developed its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s.

    De Mestral developed a fastener that consisted of two components: a lineal fabric strip with tiny hooks that could “mate” with another fabric strip with smaller loops, attaching temporarily, until pulled apart.[2] Initially made of cotton, which proved impractical,[3] the fastener was eventually constructed with nylon and polyester.[4]

    De Mestral gave the name Velcro, a portmanteau of the French words velours (“velvet”), and crochet (“hook”),[5][6] to his invention.

    Humphrey Cripps began investing in Velcro in the 1960s. In 2009, the company was taken private by a private equity firm linked to the Cripps family.[7][8]

  21. In the summer of 1958 Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments found a solution to this problem. He was newly employed and had been set to work on a project to build smaller electrical circuits. However, the path that Texas Instruments had chosen for its miniaturization project didn’t seem to be the right one to Kilby.

    Because he was newly employed, Kilby had no vacation like the rest of the staff. Working alone in the lab, he saw an opportunity to find a solution of his own to the miniaturization problem. Kilby’s idea was to make all the components and the chip out of the same block (monolith) of semiconductor material. When the rest of the workers returned from vacation, Kilby presented his new idea to his superiors. He was allowed to build a test version of his circuit. In September 1958, he had his first integrated circuit ready. It was tested and it worked perfectly!

    Nobel Prize winner!

  22. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958[5] with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.[6][7]

    • “encouraging peaceful applications in space science.” Until Jimmy Carter came along and insisted that, to save money, the shuttle would be our only means to put satellites into space – including military ones.

  23. PTFE was accidentally discovered in 1938 by Roy Plunkett while he was working in New Jersey for DuPont. As Plunkett attempted to make a new chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant, the tetrafluoroethylene gas in its pressure bottle stopped flowing before the bottle’s weight had dropped to the point signaling “empty.” Since Plunkett was measuring the amount of gas used by weighing the bottle, he became curious as to the source of the weight, and finally resorted to sawing the bottle apart. He found the bottle’s interior coated with a waxy white material that was oddly slippery. Analysis showed that it was polymerized perfluoroethylene, with the iron from the inside of the container having acted as a catalyst at high pressure. Kinetic Chemicals patented the new fluorinated plastic (analogous to the already known polyethylene) in 1941,[2] and registered the Teflon trademark in 1945.[3][4]

    • Post-it note adhesive was also a failed experiment at 3M but with a twist – employee Art Fry took it upon himself to change the mind of higher-ups that the adhesive had value. He did it by in-house manufacturing a steady supply of post-it notes for 3M secretaries until they were all using them – thus convincing the nay-sayers that his product idea was a good one. http://www.snopes.com/business/origins/post-it.asp

  24. We have a good eye in the sky, it cost mega bucks, it needed corrective glasses, more mega bucks, then some person decided it was better to look at something umpteen trillion miles away. I would like this eye in the sky to look at our neighbours so we get a better understanding of our own little cosmos.

    Have these people no shame.

  25. I found a NASA presentation prepared by the UA team (Daniel Apai, Yi-Fan Zhou et al) who invented this new imaging technique which explains in some detail how it works.
    asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/colloquia/luvoir/2015/Apai_ATLAST_30Sep2015.pdf

    Some of the comments above have suggested that these images are merely some kind of hallucinations of an artist’s rendering of a series of brightness measurements. Actually it is more complex than that and utilizes spectral data from which the internal cloud forming processes can be inferred.

    So, yes, it is a kind of ‘best-fit’ modeling of data, to create these images. Probably not unique in the sense that different models could produce different images. But certainly not an ‘artist rendering.
    :-|

    • Yes, yes…. spectral measurements…. nonlinear Schrodiner equation…. make it to appear complex to overwhelm laymen and shut the critics up… In the meantime, it’s all just a hypothesis that no one can neither confirm nor disprove.

      • @Walt the Physicist

        …. nonlinear Schrodiner equation….

        Hmm, the usual formulation of Schroedinger’s equation is linear. So why introduce non-linearity, or quantum theory, for that matter, when the theory need only work as a classical linear superposition of vertical properties to facilitate the detection?

        it’s all just a hypothesis that no one can neither confirm nor disprove.

        They claim the algorithm was validated using their detector on Jupiter’s Red Spot. (It’s really just a kind of ‘storm’ detector.)

      • They claim the algorithm was validated using their detector on Jupiter’s Red Spot. (It’s really just a kind of ‘storm’ detector.)

        I don’t see how they can do that with a single pixel of data, and don’t see how it could be any more than a single pixel.
        On one of the brighter planets in the solar system, where you can get a good exposure over a shorter period, I can see how you could visualize longitudinal features, but there wouldn’t be any latitudinal information.

  26. “Their results were published today in The Astrophysical Journal.”

    If they’d said it was suffering from global-warming then they might have got it published in Science or Nature. :)

  27. I help build the Atlas V and Delta IV…..This is the kind of stuff I love to see….science discovering things.

    As Geddy Lee sings….”This magic day when super-science mingles with the bright stuff of dreams”

  28. They did not ‘image’ anything. They advanced the light curve technique so that they can extrapolate the albedo of the planet – that’s all. Which is not actually anything much new at all. There’s certainly no first to it.

  29. Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s get real. It is my understanding that images above are fictional — they are illustrations of what an artist thinks the data in the graph might be. I do not think that they are photographs of a planet 160 light-years distant.

    The data is the data — “They measured its changing brightness over time.” which they have interpreted as “banded clouds” changing the brightness as the planet revolves.

    • I agree, these are not photographs. Neither are they merely an artist’s rendering.

      A photograph is merely a ‘reconstructed model’ of an object using an optical wavefront sensor (“lens”). It is technically feasible (using aperture synthesis) to reconstruct exoplanet images with wavefront optics, but currently not possible without constructing telescopes with planet-sized apertures. Such telescopes would likely be able to capture features which change relatively slowly over time from most exoplanets (including the smaller ones we can’t even see yet)

      In the meantime these lightcurve techniques are a viable workaround. So these “lightcurve” exoplanet images are reconstructed models of atmospheric clouds using multi-spectral optical sensors, which operate by inferring the cloud-generating processes using spectral properties of the received photons.

      Here is a description of how it works. It reconstructs the cloud dynamics of these planetary gas giants with surprising accuracy.
      http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/colloquia/luvoir/2015/Apai_ATLAST_30Sep2015.pdf

      Note slides #46ff, where Jupiter is used to calibrate this “lightcurving” technique, even reconstructing the Red Spot. “MCMC-based Light Curve Mapping Tool Validated on Jupiter” (Karalidi)

      I think that’s impressive.

      • … Another way to think of this imaging technique would be as a “storm detector”, i.e. a way to detect the vertical structure of atmospheric clouds along with the longitudinal structure. This is inferred from inhomogeneous spectral features of the clouds. (See slide #21)

        So what would it detect if pointed to an “earth-like” planet? Maybe a Cat 5 hurricane lumbering across the planet.

      • @me
        “I agree, these are not photographs. Neither are they merely an artist’s rendering. ”

        Actually, I’m wrong. The “banded” planetary image at the top of this post is in fact an artist’s rendering. Indeed it is titled “Artist’s view of super Jupiter …”
        http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2016/05/image/a/

        I was conflating this with the presentation slides I found prepared by the same author (Apai) which described a technique, validate on Jupiter, for detecting storms on exoplanets, using spectral features to infer vertical structure of the atmosphere.

        The Zhou-Apai paper at the Hubble site describes how they deduced the rotational period from a modulation in the detected, enhanced image of the exoplanet (2m1207b), which can be resolved by the Hubble from the main brown dwarf star (2m1207a)

        The pure yellow blob in the right image is the exoplanet, as resolved by Hubble, with an apparent diameter of several pixels.

        That is just the planet’s disk convolved with the point-spread function (PSF) of the telescope, not the true image of the planet, which would be less than a pixel in diameter. By deconvolving and oversampling the resulting image over time, the researchers were able to detect sinusoidal modulation, which they determined was a feature of the planet, not the telescope or observation process, which represented atmospheric features rising and setting on the planet. From this they deduced a rotation period of about 10.7 hours.

        Not clear how they deduced the ‘patchy’ nature of the clouds over this planet from this paper. Apparently they’re not the first to directly image this exoplanet, but is considered a notable achievement in that it involves isolating and extracting planetary features by enhancing the contrast of the planetary image by removing some of the overlapping PSF from the host brown dwarf.

  30. It seems that the true achievement here is simply that they are able to 1) Detect such a small change in light from a planet so far away and 2) Detect the change well enough to establish periodicity. The rest is all spin…

  31. “…and are there any more questions?”
    “Yes, may we see the image?”
    “Well, there’s not actually an image…”

    As for the joker who pooh-poohed the development of space travel, I will offer “spy satellites” as a very pertinent motive (operating in secret during the early 60s). It enabled an accurate assessment of Soviet ICBM capability, essential to establishing our own defense posture and allowing us to prevail in the Cold War. Early warning satellites in geostationary orbit were also important pillars of our defense posture. A further push in the direction of the Strategic Defense Initiative was instrumental in convincing the Politburo that they could not win a Cold War based on technological competition. (This was also the subtext purpose of the Apollo program.) End result: we win the Cold War without raising the temperature.

    • No they won’t. They are shysters but not stupids! Next they might study the patterns of “cloud” formation and “demonstrate” that the seasons exist on this planet… Just like on Earth, sigh….

  32. Sorry if this has been covered before – don’t have time to read through the comments – but every knows that the image shown (not by the original poster, but the original authors) is more than a bit misleading because one gets the impression the “image” of the planet is either that or something similar. The actual “image” can be seen in Figure 1 here:

    It’s an amazing scientific accomplishment, but what they did and what made it into the “press release” bear little similarity.

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