A new milestone in his short life has already scored the James Webb Space Telescopesince NASA reported this September 1 that they managed to photograph the first exoplanet with infrared technology: HIP 65426 b.
“This image shows exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light, as seen from the James Webb Space Telescope: purple shows the NIRCam instrument view at 3.00 micrometers, blue shows the NIRCam instrument view at 4.44 micrometers, yellow shows the MIRI instrument view at 11.4 micrometers, and red shows the MIRI instrument view at 15.5 micrometers.
“This is a transformative moment, not just for Webb but for astronomy in general,” 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. Webb is an international mission led by NASA in collaboration with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
The exoplanet in Webb’s image, called HIP 65426 b, is between six and 12 times the mass of Jupiter, and these observations could help narrow that down even more. It is young like the planets, about 15 to 20 million years old, compared to our 4.5 billion year old Earth.
Astronomers discovered the planet in 2017 using the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and imaged it using short infrared wavelengths of light. Webb’s view, at longer infrared wavelengths, reveals new details that ground-based telescopes could not detect due to the intrinsic infrared glow of Earth’s atmosphere.
In each filter image, the planet appears as a slightly differently shaped patch of light. This is due to the details of Webb’s optical system and how he translates light through the different optics.
“Getting this image felt like digging for space treasures,” said Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the analysis of the images. “At first all I could see was the light from the star, but with careful image processing I was able to remove that light and discover the planet.”