Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have captured the first direct image of a planet outside of our solar system.
Because the exoplanet is a gas giant and lacks a rocky surface, it is unsuitable to life.
The image, as seen through four different light filters, demonstrates how Webb’s strong infrared vision can easily capture worlds outside of our solar system, paving the door for upcoming observations that will provide more data about exoplanets than has ever been available.
HIP 65425 and four images of its planet “b.” The image has a dark backdrop and numerous white and blue stars; it is not from Webb and is titled “Digitized Sky Survey.”
In the upper centre is written “Star HIP 65425.” It contains four telescope aberrations, or diffraction spikes, on the top, bottom, left, and right. Four inset boxes are highlighted by diagonal lines running from the star to the bottom of the image.
First is Webb’s NIRCam view of the exoplanet, from left to right. It appears as a purple dot with purple bars at 11 and 5. The bars are artefacts of the telescope, not actual bars. The planet and objects have been given a purple hue. The image has the applied filter, F300M (3 micrometres). A similar NIRCam picture using the filter F444W is shown next (4.44 micrometers).
This view has the artefact bars and is coloured blue. A MIRI perspective in orange follows. There are no bars. Filter type: F1140C (11.40 micrometers). Lastly, a MIRI view utilising the F1550C filter (15.50 micrometers). It is a large red dot. On each of the four representations, the parent star is symbolised by a white star.
“This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally,” said Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who led these observations with a large international collaboration.
Webb is a multinational mission run by NASA in conjunction with its affiliates, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency (Canadian Space Agency).
The HIP 65426 b exoplanet in Webb’s image has a mass that ranges from six to twelve times that of Jupiter, and these observations may assist to further refine that range. In comparison to our 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, it is a young planet, being just roughly 15 to 20 million years old.
The information gathered from these observations has been analysed by researchers, who are currently writing a report that will be submitted to journals for peer review. In contrast, future opportunities for researching far-off planets are already hinted at by Webb’s initial exoplanet capture.
HIP 65426 b is sufficiently far away from its host star for Webb to be able to distinguish the planet from the star in the image since it is 100 times further away from its host star than Earth is from the Sun.