The James Webb Telescope photographs its FIRST ‘alien world’: New images of an exoplanet just 385 light-years from Earth reveal incredible detail never before seen with human eyes
- HIP 65426 is the first exoplanet captured by the James Webb Telescope
- It sits outside of our solar system and is much younger than Earth
- Earth is 4.5 billion years old while the exoplanet is 15 to 20 million years old
- This exoplanet was captured by telescopes on Earth, but James Webb was able to “see” it without interference.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured its first image of an exoplanet just 385 light-years from Earth, revealing incredible detail never before seen with human eyes.
The telescope used its near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), which can block surrounding starlight, to capture epic images of exoplanet HIP 65426.
The alien world was first spotted by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile in 2017, but the long wavelengths were blocked by Earth’s atmosphere.
However, because Webb is floating through space, it has been able to take direct pictures of the planet that astronomers can process to remove starlight and reveal the planet.
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NASA’s James Webb Telescope has captured detailed images of its first exoplanet outside our solar system. The telescope used its powerful technologies to “see” the exoplanets at longer wavelengths that are missed by ground-based telescopes
Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz who led the analysis of the images, liked it as “digging for space treasures.”
The exoplanet is only 15 to 20 million years old, which is much younger than our 4.5 billion year old Earth.
NASA notes that it is a gas giant that does not have a rocky surface and therefore could not host life.
Astronomers discovered the planet in 2017 with the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and photographed it with near-infrared light.
The extraterrestrial world was first spotted in 2017 (pictured) by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, but the long wavelengths were blocked by Earth’s atmosphere.
Webb’s technology is able to capture the longer infrared waves without a break as the telescope levitates through space.
Researchers involved in the discovery are currently analyzing the data to write a paper that will be submitted for peer review – the current information has not been peer reviewed.
“But Webb’s first image of an exoplanet already hints at future opportunities for exploring distant worlds,” NASA said in a statement.
Because HIP 65426 b is about 100 times farther from its host star than Earth is from the Sun, it is far enough from the star that Webb can easily separate the planet from the star in the image.
This is due to NIRCAM and MIRI equipped with coronagraphs that act as tiny shields to block the surrounding starlight.
NASA’s Roman Space Telescope, Nancy Grace, due for launch later this decade, will demonstrate an even more advanced coronagraph.
James Webb’s infrared abilities allow him to see back in time to the Big Bang
In each filter image, the planet appears as a slightly differently shaped spot of light. This is due to the specifics of Webb’s optical system and how it translates light through the various optics.
While this isn’t the first direct image of an exoplanet captured from space — the Hubble Space Telescope has previously captured direct images of exoplanets — HIP 65426 b points the way forward for Webb’s exoplanet exploration.
“I think the most exciting thing is that we’re just getting 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.”
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope was designed to discover light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is believed to be the successor to the Hubble orbiting space telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, able to look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA considers James Webb to be Hubble’s successor rather than a replacement as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.