The James Webb Telescope just took the first direct image of an exoplanet – teach me about science
A picture of this world and the solar system! For the first time, astronomers have used the James Webb Space Telescope to take a direct image of a planet outside our solar system.
Since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began its near-daily science observations, we’ve got something new. Now I’ve done it again, this time showing the first direct image of a planet outside our solar system.
The exoplanet in question, named HIP 65426 b, is a gas giant, meaning it has no rocky surface and cannot be habitable. Its mass is between six and twelve times that of Jupiter, and it is surprisingly small compared to the other planets: it is estimated to be between 15 and 20 million years old, compared to our Earth which is 4.5 billion years old.
This image, which contains views through four different optical filters, shows how JWST’s powerful infrared gaze can easily capture worlds outside our solar system. This is very good news because it shows its ability so that in future observations it can reveal unprecedented information about exoplanets.
Each of Webb’s four views is a different wavelength of infrared light. The white star is the location of the host star. Its light is blocked by Webb masks or micro-masks. The ribbon shapes in the NIRCam sights are artifacts of telescope optics, not physical objects. pic.twitter.com/RZGBioV4Qb
– NASA’s Web Telescope (NASAWebb) September 1, 2022
The exoplanet was discovered in 2017 using the SPHERE instrument at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and they imaged it using short infrared waves. However, Webb’s image, with its longer infrared wavelengths, reveals new details that ground-based telescopes have not been able to detect due to the intrinsic infrared glow of the Earth’s atmosphere.
These worlds are not only very far away (in a current spacecraft it would take about 73,000 years to get there), they are also very dim compared to their host star. For this reason, taking live images of the exoplanets is quite a challenge. NASA collaborators explain that HIP 65426 b is more than 10,000 times fainter than its host star in the near infrared, and a few thousand times fainter in the mid-infrared.
The space telescope carries four main instruments on board. Both the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Medium Infrared Instrument (MIRI) are equipped with spacers, which are groups of small masks that block out the star’s light, allowing Webb to take direct images of some of the planets. External such as HIP 65426 b.
“Getting this photo was like searching for treasure in space,” Aryn Carter said, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the image analysis. “Initially all I could see was the light coming from the star, but through careful image processing I was able to remove that light and discover the planet.”
Although it’s not the first time a space observatory has obtained direct images of exoplanets (Hubble has done before), it’s still an impressive feat for the new telescope, and it also opens the way to exploring other alien worlds where it will explore their physical and chemical properties.
“This is a transformative moment, not just for Webb, but for astronomy in general,” Sasha Hinckley said in a statement, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter, UK, who made these observations with broad international collaboration. “It was really impressive how well Webb Books suppressed the light from the host star.”
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