Space & Astronomy
James Webb captures its first direct image of an alien planet
By T.K. Randall
September 2, 2022 · 6 comments
The next-generation space telescope has achieved what astronomers are calling 'a transformative moment'.
Very few extrasolar worlds have ever been observed directly because they are so faint relative to their parent stars, which makes these latest images from the James Webb Space Telescope so impressive.Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA
Captured using the telescope's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), the images show - for the first time since the James Webb began operations - an extrasolar world imaged directly in a solar system some 385 light-years from the Earth.
Known as HIP 65426 b, the planet is very large - roughly 12 times the size of Jupiter - and also orbits its star at a distance equivalent to 100 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
Incredibly, the telescope was able to separate them despite the planet being 10,000 times dimmer than its star.
"Obtaining this image felt like digging for space treasure," said lead analyst Aarynn Carter of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
"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."
While this particular planet is definitely not a good candidate for finding extraterrestrial life, the James Webb Space Telescope is likely to be observing a great many other worlds during its lifetime.
"This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally," said study leader Sasha Hinkley of the University of Exeter.
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