First direct image of a distant planet captured by the Webb Space Telescope

For the first time, the James Webb Space Telescope has been used to capture a direct image of an exoplanet (a planet outside our solar system).

The exoplanet, called HIP 65426 b, is a gas giant like Jupiter and Saturn, meaning it has no rocky surface. On the other hand, it is not habitable. HIP 65426 b is about 100 times farther from its host star than Earth is from the Sun.

HIP 65426 b is between 6 and 12 times the mass of Jupiter. It is young: it is between 15 million and 20 million years old, while the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

Two of Webb’s instruments observed the planet: the NIRCam (near-infrared camera) and the MIRI (mid-infrared instrument). Both instruments are equipped with coronagraphs, which are sets of small masks that block starlight, allowing Webb to take direct images of certain exoplanets like this one. Without a coronagraph, the star’s light, which is much brighter than the planet’s, would make it impossible to distinguish the latter.

NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, scheduled to launch later this decade, will use an even more advanced coronagraph, helping it capture better images of objects close to stars.

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This image shows the exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light, as seen from the James Webb Space Telescope. The images at the bottom look different because of the way Webb’s different instruments capture light. A coronagraph blocks the light from the host star in order to see the planet. (Images: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), ERS 1386 team, A. Pagan (STScI))

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on December 25, 2021 on an Ariane 5 rocket from the European spaceport located in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.

This revolutionary space telescope is the fruit of a joint effort between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

The Webb has among its objectives to search for the light emitted by some of the first galaxies of the early universe and to explore our solar system, as well as numerous exoplanets. (Font: NCYT by Amazings)

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