October 1, 2022

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The first direct image of a planet outside our solar system thanks to the James Webb Telescope

The first direct image of a planet outside our solar system thanks to the James Webb Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched late last year and reached its destination in January. There he had to go through several procedures before he could be used and on July 11, the first photo he sent was made public.

Since then, it has completely lived up to high expectations, transmitting fantastic images, such as the ‘deepest picture of the universe ever’ and images of the oldest and most distant galaxies.

And now there are direct images of an exoplanet. “This is a transformative moment not only for Webb but astronomy in general,” said Sacha Hinckley. “With Webb, we can apply a whole new set of physics to look at the chemical properties of these planets.” Hinckley is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Exeter and led the study.

Astronomers discovered the planet HIP65426b in 2017 using the Sphere instrument on the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. Those earlier images of the planet were taken at short wavelengths of infrared radiation, and covered only a relatively narrow band of the planet’s total light emission.

Until now, the existence of most exoplanets has usually been inferred by indirect methods, such as the “transit method”, in which some of the light from the host star is blocked by a planet passing in front of it.

However, taking direct images of exoplanets has proven more difficult, because the host stars the planets orbit around them are much brighter than the planets, in this case several thousand times to more than ten thousand times brighter.

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