James Webb Telescope captures its first image of planet outside solar system

The alien world is about six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter

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The James Webb Space Telescope has captured its first image of a planet outside the solar system.

Nasa released the image of HIP 65426 b on Thursday, a gas giant that is about six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system.

At only 15 to 20 million years old, the alien world is relatively young compared to the 4.5-billion-year-old Earth.

It is the first time an exoplanet ― a planet beyond our solar system ― has been captured in infrared, radiant energy that is invisible to human eye.

This was possible because the Webb telescope has a powerful infrared instrument that can capture unprecedented details of space objects.

“This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally,” said Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the UK, who led these observations with a large international collaboration.

The planet was discovered in 2017 using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Images of it were taken in short infrared wavelengths back then, but newer ones taken by Webb at longer infrared wavelengths have helped reveal new details that ground-based telescoped were unable to detect.

The exoplanet is composed mainly of gas, which means it has no rocky surface and is uninhabitable.

Taking direct images of exoplanets is more challenging than capturing shots of their host stars because they are not as bright, Nasa said.

In each filter image, the planet appears as a slightly differently shaped blob of light.

That is because of how Webb’s optical system operates and translates light through the different optics.

Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the analysis of the images, said obtaining the image "felt like digging for space treasure".

“At first all I could see was light from the star, but with careful image processing I was able to remove that light and uncover the planet,” she said.

“I think what’s most exciting is that we’ve only just begun.

“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.”

The Webb telescope has been developed by Nasa with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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Updated: September 02, 2022, 9:27 AM
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