Sep 1, 2022 - Science

JWST captures its first direct image of a planet outside our solar system

Exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI)
Exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light. The star indicates the location of the planet's host star. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI)

The James Webb Space Telescope team on Thursday released its first direct image of a planet outside our solar system.

The big picture: More than 5,000 exoplanets have been discovered over the past 30 years, giving astronomers hints about the variety of worlds in the universe. Direct images of these distant planets are expected to provide more details about their composition and formation — and open the next chapter in the search for life beyond Earth.

  • “This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally,” Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, said in a NASA press release.

Details: JWST captured the image of exoplanet HIP 65426b in four different bands of infrared light. The feat is accomplished using small masks on JWST that block bright light from the exoplanet's host star, HIP 65426.

  • The planet, which was discovered using an instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile in 2017, is a gas giant about 6 to 12 times the mass of Jupiter, according to NASA.
  • It is just 15 to 20 million years old and about 100 times farther from its star than Earth is from our Sun.
  • The research has not been peer-reviewed.

What to watch: Infrared images are expected to give astronomers unprecedented information about the temperatures and masses of exoplanets, and to help them spot weather on the far off worlds.

Go deeper: How the James Webb Space Telescope's images are made

Go deeper