Lake County News, CA – Space news: Webb Telescope images a Jupiter-like planet 350 light-years away

The star HIP 65426 (above) is known to have a small planet, but it is difficult to see due to the glow from the bright star. The James Webb Space Telescope was able to block out starlight and image the planet in seven wavelengths of infrared light (four shown below), revealing details of the planet’s temperature and composition. Purple shows the width of the NIRCam instrument at a wavelength of 3 microns (one thousandth of a millimeter); Blue shows the width of the NIRCam instrument at 4.44 μm; Yellow shows the width of the MIRI instrument at 11.40 μm; Red shows the width of the MIRI instrument at 15.50 µm. The shapes of the images vary according to the ways telescope instruments capture light. The stripe shapes in the NIRCam images are artifacts of the telescope’s optics, not objects in the scene. (Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A. Carter (UCSC), ERS 1386 Team, and A. Pagan, STScI).

BERKELEY, CA – After checking one of its main targets, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, has imaged the first exoplanet – a young gas giant planet six to 12 times more massive than Jupiter, orbiting a star 350 light-years away from Earth.

Astronomer Paul Callas, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-investigator of the Telescope Early Release Science Program, or ERS, focuses on exoplanets. “The planet was first discovered in 2017 by ground-based observatories, but JWST is able to capture the planet’s warm emissions at wavelengths longer than infrared.”

The star HIP 65426 is very young and hot, and it has recently completed its planetary formation stage. It is located in the southern constellation Centaurus.

“This planetary system is only 14 million years old, and this new data will advance our knowledge of how planets formed and evolved,” Kalas said.

The young planet, called HIP 65426b, is thousands of times lighter than the star, so the advanced cameras aboard JWST — the Near Infrared Camera, or NIRCam, and the Medium Infrared Instrument, or MIRI — had to artificially block starlight using coronagraphs from order to take pictures.

This is the first image of an exoplanet at mid-infrared wavelengths – that is, wavelengths greater than 5 microns (one-millionth of a meter, or one-thousandth of a millimeter).

“Getting this image felt like a treasure hunt in space,” said team member Arjen Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz who led the analysis of the images. “I think the most exciting thing is that we are just getting started. There are more images of exoplanets coming that will shape our general understanding of physics, chemistry and morphology. We may also discover previously unknown planets.”

Carter is the first author of a research paper describing findings that have been submitted for publication. A preliminary, peer-reviewed version is available online.

The ERS exoplanet team was tasked with evaluating how well NIRCam and MIRI were working at suppressing starlight, so it directed JWST toward a known exoplanet. The team’s analysis showed that the James Webb Telescope (JWST) is so sensitive that it can detect small planets with the mass of Saturn, a capability unmatched by any other astronomical observatory.

Much of the expertise needed to design these cameras and science software arose from complex ground-based efforts, such as the University of California’s Lake and Keck observatories, Callas said.

Marshall Perrin, a former graduate student at UC Berkeley, has commissioned and trained JWST with Callas and Professor James Graham at both Lick and Keck for more than a decade. Beren is also a member of the ERS Exoplanet Team, as are current Berkeley astronomers Kiming Zhang and Martha Bryan.

Webb is an international mission led by NASA in collaboration with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Robert Sanders writes for the University of California, Berkeley News Center.