First Image Of An Exoplanet From JWST Shows A Very Strange World

The unusual world is among the first targets studied by the new space observatory.

Astronomers have released the first image of an exoplanet captured by JWST, and it shows a strange new world. The groundbreaking telescope is said to have outperformed expectations by a factor of ten. It has already been demonstrated that it can study the atmospheres of exoplanets as they pass in front of their stars, and now it has been proved that it can directly image exoplanets.

The world in question

is known as HIP 65426b, and it is incredibly mysterious. Previous claims said it shouldn’t exist because it doesn’t fit our models of exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System), so observations of it are essential in helping astronomers develop better ones.

Firstly, it orbits a very young star with a mass twice that of our Sun and a very fast spin on its axis. In comparison to our Sun’s 28 days, a full rotation takes just over three hours. That’s 150 times faster. Furthermore, despite being a star between 15 and 20 million years old, it lacks a disk from which planets can form. And that’s only the beginning of the mystery.

Image Of An Exoplanet
Yes, that blob of light is an exoplanet. The small white star in each image marks the location of the host star HIP 65426, whose light has been blocked so we can see it. Image credit: Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI)

HIP 65426b

is about 92 AU (astronomical unit) from its star, with 1 AU (astronomical unit) being the Earth-Sun distance. That’s three times as far as Neptune is.  And yet the planet, which is now estimated to weigh approximately seven times that of Jupiter, is hot, with a temperature of approximately 1,000°C (1,800°F).

According to one theory, the planet formed with siblings closer to the star, quickly causing the disk to disappear, and then it ended up here due to a gravitational tug-of-war with the siblings. In an alternate scenario, the star and the planet form together, with the star hoarding the majority of the material, preventing the planet from growing any larger and becoming a brown dwarf or a star.

A paper on JWST’s first-ever image of an exoplanet

has been submitted to the AAS journal and is now available to read on the online repository ArXiv. In infrared, the wavelength that JWST uses, the planet is between 1,000 (near infrared) to 100 (mid-infrared) times fainter than its star. It’s amazing that the telescope can see it so clearly.

While this study does not provide a clear answer about the origin of this strange world, it does demonstrate how useful JWST will be for studying exoplanets. The team believes that if the right star is found, a planet smaller than Saturn with a similar orbit should be visible to the space telescope.

Don’t worry if you don’t think HIP 65426b is a good name for such an unusual planet. As we write, the International Astronomical Union is seeking public submissions for new names for this and many other worlds.


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