The first exoplanet discovered with the help of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been announced by scientists. The rocky planet revolves around an extraterrestrial red dwarf star so closely that it makes one full rotation every two Earth days, as reported by IGN.
Despite its uniqueness, Earth is just one of the estimated tens of billions of planets in the Milky Way galaxy. Exoplanets are planets that are known to exist outside of our solar system and orbit other stars.
Astronomers have been able to prove the presence of over 5,000 alien worlds with the aid of strong contemporary telescopes, each of which possesses its own distinctive and occasionally startlingly strange traits.
Now, astronomers have used the JWST’s acute golden eye to make the first verified finding of a new exoplanet.
LHS 475 b, the candidate world’s official name, was discovered for the first time by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). To keep an eye out for a minute, recurring dips in the light of far-off stars that might be caused by an orbiting exoplanet passing in front of the telescope and its stellar guardian, TESS was built to take in a wide-angle picture of the galaxy.
A red dwarf star in the constellation Octans, 41 light-years from Earth, was found to emit one of these light signatures. On August 31 of last year, the JWST was given the assignment to observe the far-off star following the original discovery.
The red dwarf’s orbit is being circled by a rocky exoplanet with a diameter 99% that of Earth, according to the first findings from the flagship telescope. The frequency of the light dips from the parent star also showed that LHS 475 b orbits its star in an exceptionally close orbit—closer even than Mercury’s orbit around the Sun, which is the innermost planet in our solar system.
The planet’s orbit is so near to its parent star that it can make a full rotation of the relatively cold star once every two Earth days.
Despite the high quality of the JWST data, the team is unsure if the newly discovered world is home to an atmosphere at this time. However, the presence of some components, such as methane, has been ruled out by scientists.
Astrophysicist Erin May of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said in a NASA statement that the observatory’s findings “are stunning.” Although the telescope is incredibly sensitive, it is still too early to draw any firm conclusions about the planet’s atmosphere.
A valuable weapon
The existence of a dense atmosphere made up only of carbon dioxide is still a possibility. The greenhouse effect that would arise from such an atmosphere, however difficult to measure, could help explain why the planet is hundreds of degrees hotter than Earth, although orbiting a star that is half as bright as the Sun.
Astronomers can learn how the planets in our solar system and others found across the universe formed and evolved by examining the planets that orbit far-off stars. The discovery of a planet that orbits in a star’s habitable zone, or the area where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface, and provides the necessary conditions for the evolution of extraterrestrial life, would be the ultimate goal of exoplanet exploration.
The JWST is a valuable weapon in humanity’s continued drive to explore odd new worlds and ultimately shed light on the question of whether or not humanity is alone in the cosmos thanks to its ability to characterise exoplanet atmospheres and look for potential signs of life.
Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, “These first observational data from an Earth-size, rocky planet open the door to numerous future opportunities for investigating rocky planet atmospheres with Webb.” Even though the mission has only just begun, Webb is helping us come to a new knowledge of Earth-like places outside of our solar system.
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