NASA’s James Webb releases the first direct image of a planet outside our solar system

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NASA on Thursday shared an image taken by the James Webb Telescope showing the first-ever direct image of a planet outside our solar system.

NASA says the exoplanet, HIP 65426 b, is a gas giant, meaning it has no rocky surface and could not be habitable. The image can be seen through different bands of infrared light.

Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the UK, who led the observations, called the images “a transformative moment, not just for Webb but for astronomy in general. “.

A photo of exoplanet 65426 b released by NASA.
(NASA)

HIP 65426 has about six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter and is between 15 and 20 million years old, according to NASA. Earth, by comparison, is about 4.5 billion years old. HIP 65426 b is also about 100 times farther from its host star than Earth is from the Sun.

Astronomers discovered the exoplanet in 2017 using the SPHERE instrument of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The images were first taken using short infrared wavelengths of light.

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Webb’s view uses longer infrared wavelengths, revealing new details that ground-based telescopes could not detect due to the intrinsic infrared glow of Earth’s atmosphere, according to NASA.

Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) were equipped with coronagraphs that blocked starlight – which is much brighter than planets – allowing direct images of exoplanets like HIP 65426 b.

NASA says this breakthrough opens doors to future possibilities for studying distant worlds.

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“I think what’s most exciting is that we’ve only just begun,” said Aarynn Carter, postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the analysis of the images. “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.”

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