New exoplanet image could be the secret to finding life among the stars, NASA says
Planet HIP 65426 b is the first detailed image of an exoplanet taken using the James Webb Space Telescope
Just as life has a beat, it seems, so do the stars.
NASA released “Listen to the Sounds of Discovery” months ago when the discovery of 5,000 exoplanets was announced. Sometimes as many as 10 new planets are discovered a week, but that’s still only a fraction of the billions of planets it suspects exist.
Scientists are moving toward a detailed analysis of the exoplanets that hasn’t been possible before now — and it all starts with a new image from the James Webb Space Telescope.
Thursday morning, NASA released the first detailed image of an exoplanet by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Although this gas giant, named Planet HIP 65426 b, is too rocky for life, NASA said the new detailed shot made possible by new technology could make it easier to find other habitable— or better yet, inhabited — planets with the telescope.
The planet was first discovered in 2017, said NASA’s press release, but the new image will add new information because it is not as limited as ground-based telescopes.
It is all about the light when it comes to finding planets.
The Earth’s atmosphere, which has an intrinsic infrared glow, makes it difficult for ground-based telescopes to get clear pictures and get detailed shots like the one of Planet HIP 65426 b. But the Webb telescope has the advantage of being outside of that atmospheric glow.
Coronagraphs on the space-bound telescope further increase the telescope’s visibility by acting as a light filter to see the planets among the 10,000-times-brighter host stars. This process can make it difficult to differentiate the planets.
It was as if “looking for space treasure,” said Aarynn Carter, the lead researcher on the project from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The new advancements are paving the way for more in-depth research about a planet’s composition and its conditions, including whether the planet is habitable.
“I think what’s most exciting is that we’ve only just begun,” 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.”