The James Webb Space Telescope took the first clear picture of an exoplanet, which is a planet outside of our Solar System.
Webb has sent back a number of pictures of the exoplanet planet HIP 65426 b, which is a gas giant six to twelve times the mass of Jupiter and is about 385 light years from Earth.
The findings are part of an ongoing investigation and NASA announced them in a blog post on Thursday morning.
“This is a pivotal moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy in general,” said Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter. She is the leader of an international team of scientists who study exoplanets.
HIP 65426 b was found in 2017 by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The telescope used short wavelengths of infrared light to look at the exoplanet because the Earth’s atmosphere blocks longer wavelengths. Since Webb is in space, he can use more of the infrared spectrum and see more details on planets that are far away.
Webb’s pictures aren’t the first direct pictures of exoplanets. The Hubble Space Telescope has taken pictures of other alien worlds, but it’s hard to do so because the bright star next to an exoplanet can block out the light from that planet. Like, HIP 65426 b is 10,000 times less bright than its star.
On the other hand, HIP 65426 b is 100 times farther from its star than the Earth is from the Sun. This helped astronomers find the planet in Webb’s pictures. Webb’s sensors also have coronagraphs, which black out the star’s disc to cut down on glare and make it easier to find and focus on an exoplanet.
“It was really impressive how well the Webb coronagraphs worked to suppress the light of the host star,” Dr Hinkley said.
The photos, which were taken with different filters and Webb’s Near-infrared camera (Nircam) and Mid-infrared instrument (Miri), are just the beginning of what scientists think will be a long series of exoplanet observations and discoveries made possible by the new space observatory. The photos came after a new look at one of Webb’s earliest discoveries, a spectrum of light from the exoplanet Wasp 39b, which proved for the first time that carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere of a world that is not on Earth.
“I think what’s most exciting is that we’ve only just begun,” University of California, Santa Cruz post doctoral researcher Aarynn Carter, who analysed 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 may even discover previously unknown planets, too.”