First exoplanet image for James Webb: 'a turning point for astronomy'

The James Webb telescope has provided unprecedented information on a very young and gigantic exoplanet, which delights astronomers.

Image of exoplanet HIP 65426 b, made public on September 1, 2022 via the James Webb Telescope ©BelgaImage

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured its first direct image of an exoplanet, that is, a planet outside our solar system, according to a NASA blog post on Thursday. This planet is a gas giant, where life as we know it would be impossible. "This is a turning point, not only for Webb but for astronomy in general.“, enthused Sasha Hinkley, professor of astrophysics at the University of Exeter, quoted by the American space agency.

"A Space Treasure"

The exoplanet, which responds to the name of HIP 65426 b, is six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter, an estimate that the telescope should help refine. Aged about 15 to 20 million years, it is young on the scale of the planets – especially if we compare it to the Earth and its some 4.5 billion years, recalled NASA. This is not the first time that a direct image of an exoplanet has been captured. The mythical Hubble space telescope, launched in 1990 and still in operation, had already done so. But this picture"shows the way forward for exoplanet exploration by Webb", judged NASA. The fact that the James Webb telescope managed to draw the portrait "hints at future possibilities for studies of distant worlds“, continued the agency.

The image was published in four copies, each time with a different light filter. The significant distance between this exoplanet and its star made it easier to differentiate them. "Getting this picture was like digging for space treasure", said Aarynn Carter, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who worked on the analysis of the images. A ten billion dollar engineering jewel, the James Webb Telescope conducts its observations at 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.At the end of August, it had detected for the first the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, a discovery which had excited scientists for the continuation of its observations.