James Webb Telescope captures its first images of an exoplanet

Named HIP 65426 b is a gas giant about six to eight times the size of Jupiter, which is an enormous planet indeed. It is only about 15 to 20 million years old, which in planet years is very young. Our own Earth is about four to five billion years old.

In 2017 astronomers from Chile, using the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), took images of the HIP 65426 b using short infrared wavelengths of light. The image today is taken in mid-infrared light. It reveals much more detail than the ground-based telescopes at the VLT campus. This is due to the intrinsic infrared glow of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers from the NASA/ESA/CSA cooperative are preparing a paper of their observations, which will be submitted to journals for peer review. The fact that these detailed images captured an exoplanet so well is already leading to future possibilities for studying distant worlds.

One of the concerns researchers had was making certain there was a star associated with the large gas giant, proving it was indeed an exoplanet and not a dwarf star. The images from the Webb telescope show HIP 65426 b is sufficiently close to a star to be in its orbit and is about 100 times further from that star than Earth is from our own star. The distance from HIP 65426 b to its sun is also sufficient to distinctly separate the two in the image.

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