Once again creating history, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured images of an exoplanet outside of our solar system. While more than 5,000 exoplanets have been found by astronomers, the majority have been verified using techniques other than direct imaging. Since last summer, when it made public its first set of photos, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been in the news.
Webb’s earliest photographs are part of a program called Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS), which aims to provide astronomers all around the globe quick access to Webb data. The initiative gives the whole scientific community plenty of time to organize follow-up investigations and contribute to important new findings.
Costing more than $10 billion over the course of its expected lifespan, the telescope has already shown its worth by revealing previously unknown solar systems, verifying the existence of carbon dioxide on distant planets, and educating scientists on the subject of Jupiter and other planets in the inner solar system.
HIP 65426 b, a super Jupiter located around 385 light-years from Earth, is the subject of this most recent photograph. The planet cannot support life since it is a gas giant without a stony surface. Because HIP 65426 b is more than 100 times further away from its host star than the Earth is from the Sun, astronomers were able to block out the star’s light and get a clearer image of the planet.
The study team comments in the companion publication, which has been submitted for peer review and is available on arXiv, that this finding is significant not just for what it may tell researchers about the HIP 65426 b system, but also because it demonstrates how the James Webb telescope’s high-contrast imaging modes are performing above and above expectations and opening up a wide range of new research opportunities.
Their excitement was expressed in a NASA blog post by Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who oversaw the picture analysis.
“The fact that we’ve just begun, in my opinion, is what’s most thrilling, added Carter. There will be a ton more photos of exoplanets that will influence how we see their physics, chemistry, and creation in general. We may even find some undiscovered worlds.”
Webb Takes On The Challenge Of Exoplanets
Exoplanets are very difficult to photograph because stars are brighter than planets and obscure far-off planets. Observatories on Earth, like the Gemini Planet Imager and the Hubble Space Telescope, have already taken around 20 pictures of exoplanets.
The latest Webb picture is the first direct discovery of an exoplanet beyond five microns, and it is revolutionary in its methods. In addition, HIP 65426 b is thought to be just 15 to 20 million years old, making it a youthful object compared to the 4.5 billion-year-old Earth.
The transit approach is used to find the majority of exoplanets, however, it often discovers bigger, older planets that are more likely to have undergone migration or accretion. Contrarily, direct imaging may locate younger, smaller, more Earth-like exoplanets, which has the potential to provide novel insights into the process of planetary creation. Such findings “may eventually lead to the discovery of life outside of our Solar System,” the report further argues.
Webb will move its focus to other solar systems in the coming days, including those that are thought to have exoplanets with atmospheric conditions conducive to supporting life, using the knowledge gained from this finding. NASA’s brand-new telescope is still thrillingly illuminating the cosmos and ushering in a new age of scientific discovery.
Source: Screen Rant, aRXiv, NASA