The Webb Space Telescope Snaps Its First Photo of An Exoplanet: Know More!

The Webb Space Telescope Snaps Its First Photo of an Exoplanet

Using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have released the first-ever image of an exoplanet (JWST). The image depicts the bright blob of a planet almost 400 light-years away that is seven times heavier than Jupiter and circles a star.

The significant discovery builds on the telescope’s previous early exoplanet discoveries and serves as a technology test for the direct imaging of Earth-like planets by future space telescopes.

Aarynn Carter, an astronomer from the University of California, Santa Cruz who worked on the picture processing team, described the experience as “exhilarating.” “I have to say that I am quite pleased with the outcome.”

This summer saw the official launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a project that spanned decades and culminated in its launch in December 2021. Early results include the observation of faraway galaxies at the universe’s birth and superb pictures of Jupiter. The telescope is also reportedly 10 times more effective than anticipated in its ability to observe exoplanets.

The new image was captured by a group led by astronomer Sasha Hinkley of the University of Exeter in the UK, and a report detailing their findings was published online late Friday night.

Scientists trained JWST on the rapidly rotating star HIP 65426, where a planet was already known to exist thanks to 2017 images taken by the SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The Hinkley team wanted to describe and test JWST’s visibility of the planet HIP 65426 b.

About two dozen exoplanets have been directly observed, but JWST’s 6.5-meter-wide hexagonal mirror will vastly increase this capability, making it far superior to any ground-based observatory. Astronomer and soon-to-be head of the University of California Observatories Bruce Macintosh called it “a moment of promise.”

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Hot Young Giant

Using a small mask called a coronagraph, JWST was able to hide the light of its host star and capture an image of HIP 65426 b. “Like a firefly around a searchlight,” as Hinkley put it, the planet in orbit was revealed.

HIP 65426 b has a 630-year orbital period because it is 100 times farther from its star than Earth is from the sun.

For this reason, as well as the planet’s tremendous heat and therefore brightness (it has a blistering temperature of roughly 900 degrees Celsius, a fever left over from its birth barely 14 million years ago), it is an excellent candidate for direct imaging.

“It has a temperature similar to a candle flame,” said Beth Biller, an astronomer from the University of Edinburgh and one of the team’s co-leaders.

Larger and more sensitive than any prior telescope, JWST was able to collect more light from this planet than ever before. (Because JWST sees at longer, infrared wavelengths, its image seems grainier than SPHERE’s.)

As a result of this, Hinkley, Biller, and their team were able to adjust their estimate of the planet’s mass, which they now put at around seven Jupiter masses, down from SPHERE’s estimate of around 10.

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The findings also aid in determining the planet’s radius, which is determined to be 1.4 times that of Jupiter. Carter remarked that the exact new data will allow scientists to compare ideas against each other and “tighten our understanding,” noting that simple models of planetary evolution cannot readily explain the mix of traits seen in this world.

Although the image does not reveal any surface features of HIP 65426 b, Biller has speculated that it “probably seems banded” like Jupiter due to temperature and compositional fluctuations and that it may have spots in its atmosphere due to storms or vortices.

Even though this enormous planet is completely unsuitable for human life, it does represent an interesting class of extra-large planets that scientists are keen to learn more about.

To some extent, Jupiter was responsible for shaping our solar system, which may have been essential for the emergence of life on Earth. “It’d be good to know if it works in different solar systems,” Macintosh added.

Scientists believe that JWST’s increased stability will allow it to take images of exoplanets far smaller than they had previously thought possible, down to planets with masses less than a third of Jupiter’s.

Space Telescope Science Institute astronomer Emily Rickman remarked, “We could picture things like Neptune and Uranus that we’ve never directly imaged before.” JWST is located in Maryland and is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Astronomers will be lining up to utilize JWST’s coronagraph, which has successfully completed its test phase, according to Hinkley. “Definitely dozens,” he says, by the time the telescope dies. I’m crossing my fingers for hundreds.

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Peeking in Distant Skies

In addition to the exoplanet image, Hinkley’s team will disclose in the coming days that they have found a variety of compounds in the atmosphere of a putative brown dwarf, sometimes known as a “failed star,” which orbits a partner star.

Its mass is almost 20 times that of Jupiter, which puts it almost on the cusp of the mass threshold where nuclear fusion could start to occur at the object’s center.

Water, methane, carbon dioxide, and salt were all shown in unparalleled detail by a spectrograph instrument on JWST.

Furthermore, they found silica clouds similar to smoke in the potential brown dwarf’s atmosphere, which had previously been only suggested in such objects. In his opinion, Hinkley’s spectrum is the best one ever recorded of a substellar partner. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Just last week, another group of scientists announced that they had used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to identify carbon dioxide in a huge exoplanet named WASP-39 b, situated 650 light-years from Earth.

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This was the first time that the gas has ever been observed in an exoplanet. They discovered an unknown chemical in the air as well.

This same team is also investigating two more massive worlds, and their findings, which are expected in the next months, will provide nearly complete insight into the atmospheric makeup of gas giants like these. University of Chicago astronomer and co-leader Jacob Bean remarked, “That’s the power of James Webb.”


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