September 12, 2022
Astronomers have revealed the first photograph of an exoplanet taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The image shows the bright blob of a world seven times heavier than Jupiter that orbits a star nearly 400 light-years away. The groundbreaking result is the latest in a slew of early exoplanet findings from the telescope, and a test of technologies that will enable direct imaging of Earth-like planets by future space telescopes.
The discovery follows hot on an announcement from two weeks ago, when a different team of astronomers reported that they have used the JWST to detect carbon dioxide in a giant exoplanet called WASP-39 b located 650 light-years from Earth—the first time the gas has ever been seen in an exoplanet. They also spotted a mystery molecule in the atmosphere. That same team is also studying two more giant worlds, with results expected in the coming months that will help piece together an almost complete picture of the atmospheric composition of gas giants like these. “That’s the power of James Webb,” said Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the University of Chicago and the team’s co-leader.