The James Webb Space Telescope has taken its first direct images of a distant exoplanet, an alien world outside our solar system.
Using a variety of instruments, Webb has returned multiple views of the exoplanet HIP 65426 b, a gas giant six to 12 times more massive than Jupiter located about 385 light-years from Earth.
The results are part of an ongoing study and have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, but NASA shared preliminary results in a blog post Thursday morning.
“This is a transformative moment, not just for Webb, but for astronomy in general,” Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter, said in a statement. She is the lead scientist of an international collaboration that carries out the study of the exoplanet.
HIP 65426 b was first discovered in 2017 by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, which saw the exoplanet in short wavelengths of infrared light; Longer wavelengths of infrared light are blocked by Earth’s atmosphere for ground-based telescopes. Being space-based, Webb is able to access more of the infrared spectrum and see more detail on distant planets.
Webb’s images are not the first direct images of exoplanets: the Hubble Space Telescope has managed to take pictures of other alien worlds, but it is not easy: the intense brightness of a nearby star of a planet can hide the light that comes from this exoplanet. HIP 65426 b, for example, is 10,000 times dimmer than its star.
But HIP 65426 b orbits its star at a distance 100 times greater than Earth’s distance from the sun, which helped scientists pick out the planet in Webb’s images. Webb’s instruments are also equipped with coronagraphs, devices that darken the disk of a distant star to reduce glare and make finding and focusing on an exoplanet a little easier.
“It was really impressive how the Webb coronagraphs worked to suppress the light from the host star,” Dr Hinkley said.
The images, taken with multiple filters and Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (Nircam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (Miri), are just the first in what scientists hope will be a long series of images and discoveries of exoplanets made possible by the new space telescope. . The images come after a new analysis of one of Webb’s first observations, a spectrum of light from the exoplanet Wasp 39b, revealed for the first time the presence of carbon dioxide in a world’s atmosphere alien
“I think the most exciting thing is that we’re just getting started,” postdoctoral researcher Aarynn Carter of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who analyzed the new Webb images of HIP 65426 b, said in a statement. “There are many more images of exoplanets to come that will shape our overall understanding of their physics, chemistry and formation. We might even discover previously unknown planets as well.”
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