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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope takes its first image of a planet outside the solar system | Scientific and technical news

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

The telescope recorded four different views of the planet HIP 65426 b, a gas giant about six to 12 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 using the Very Large Telescope at the Southern Observatory in Chile.

But Webb’s images reveal new details that ground-based telescopes could not detect due to the intrinsic infrared glow of Earth’s atmosphere.

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

Taking direct images of exoplanets presents a challenge because the stars are much brighter than surrounding planets – 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 l mid-infrared.

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

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

The telescope recorded four different views of the planet, HIP 65426 b. Photo: NASA

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

“Getting this image was 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 all I could see was starlight, but with careful image processing I was able to remove that light and discover the planet.”

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

“I think what’s most exciting is that we’ve only just started,” Carter said.

“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.”

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


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