NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been in the news lately because of the tool’s use by astronomers. For the first time, the tool was used to take a direct image of a planet from outside the solar system.

The image was viewed via four different light filters. It demonstrates just how powerful the infrared gaze can easily capture words beyond the solar system. This shows that more can be revealed about the exoplanet in the future than ever before.

Associate professor of physics at UK’s University of Exeter, Sasha Hinkley, commented on the development. “This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally,” she said.

The Image Would Not Be Possible With Ground-Based Telescopes

In Webb’s image, the exoplanet is known as HIP 65426 b, and about 12 times the mass of Jupiter. This kind of observation can help to narrow things down further. Compared to the 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, the exoplanets are young as planets go (about 20 million years old).

The planet was discovered by astronomers in 2017 using the SPHERE instrument while images of the planet were taken using a short infrared wavelength of light.

Using Webb’s telescope, some new details were revealed. These would not have been possible with ground-based telescopes due to the intrinsic infrared glow of Earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers have continued to analyze the data from these observations and are getting ready to submit their observations to journals or peer review. However, the exoplanet capture by Webb’s telescope is already a victory, which has opened more opportunities to study distant worlds.

Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) are both equipped with coronagraphs. These are sets of small masks that block out starlight, allowing Webb to take direct images of exoplanets.

Additionally, an even more advanced coronagraph will be launched later this decade with the development of NASA Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Hinkley added that the Webb coronagraph has been very impressive to repress the light of the host star. It is always a challenging task to take direct images of exoplanets because stars are usually much brighter than planets. But the Webb coronagraph has made it possible.

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