NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Takes Its First Image of a Planet Outside the Solar System | Science and technology news


NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured its first image of a planet outside our solar system.

The telescope captured four different views of the planet HIP 65426 b, a gas giant about six to twelve times the mass of Jupiter.

“This is a transformative moment, not just for Webb, but for astronomy in general,” said Sasha Hinkley, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter.

Astronomers discovered HIP 65426 b in 2017 with the Very Large Telescope at the Southern Observatory in Chile.

But Webb’s images reveal new details that ground-based telescopes couldn’t see due to the intrinsic infrared light of Earth’s atmosphere.

It is a young exoplanet, around 15 to 20 million years old – Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

Capturing direct images of exoplanets is challenging because stars are much brighter than their surrounding planets — HIP 65426 b is more than 10,000 times fainter than its parent star in the near-infrared and a few thousand times fainter in the mid-infrared.

Webb has a near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), both equipped with coronagraphs — sets of tiny masks that block starlight.

“It was really impressive how well the Webb coronagraphs worked to suppress the light from the host star,” said Prof. Hinkley.

The telescope captured four different views of the planet HIP 65426 b. Image: NASA

Because the planet is about 100 times farther from its parent star than Earth is from the Sun, the telescope can easily separate it from the star in the image.

“Getting this image felt like digging for space treasure,” said Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California who led the analysis of the images.

“At first I could only see the light from the star, but with careful image processing I was able to remove that light and reveal the planet.”

Although this is not the first direct image of an exoplanet captured from space, as the Hubble Space Telescope has previously taken direct images of exoplanets, the image points the way for future observations that will reveal more information about exoplanets.

“I think the most exciting thing is that we’ve only just begun,” said Mr. Carter.

“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.”

Last month the telescope revealed stunning details the Cartwheel Galaxy, and has previously observed a dying star and a “cosmic dance”..

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