Hubble Detects Dusty Shadows Hinting at a Hidden Exoplanet

Hubble images of a disk of gas and dust around a star 192 light-years away. The dark areas inside the disk are thought to be shadows cast by a raised portion of an inner disk, pulled upwards by an unseen exoplanet in an inclined orbit. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Debes. (STScI)

When searching nearby stars for exoplanets, astronomers typically either look for the dimming of the stars’ light as planets pass in front of them or try to see if the stars themselves exhibit a slight wobble due to the gravitational tug of orbiting worlds. But recently scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found a curious clue in the disk of gas and dust surrounding a star 192 light-years away: a long, darkened swath that orbits the star every 16 years and may indicate the presence of an orbiting planet.

“The fact that I saw the same motion over 10 billion miles from the star was pretty significant, and told me that I was seeing something that was imprinted on the outer disk rather than something that was happening directly in the disk itself,” said John Debes of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the research team. “The best explanation is that the feature is a shadow moving across the surface of the disk.”

Read the full story from NASA at Hubble Captures ‘Shadow Play’ Caused by Possible Planet