James Webb’s ‘historic’ images show an exoplanet in unprecedented detail | James Webb Space Telescope

A flaming gas giant shrouded in dusty red clouds has been revealed in unprecedented observations of a planet beyond our solar system.

The observations, which astronomers said marked a “landmark moment for astronomy”, are the first direct images of a planet beyond our solar system by NASA worth $10bn (£8.65bn). James Webb Space Telescope. They are also the first images of an exoplanet using infrared light, which gives a much more accurate indication of a planet’s mass and temperature and will allow astronomers to detect the movement of clouds moving across the planet’s sky.

“This is really a landmark moment for astronomy,” said Professor Sasha Hinkley, an astronomer at the University of Exeter, who co-led the observations. “James Webb will open the door to a whole new class of planets that have been completely out of our reach and by observing them in a wide range of wavelengths we can study their compositions in a much deeper way.

“We will be able to detect the presence of the weather.”

Direct imaging of exoplanets is very technically challenging because the host star is so much brighter. The focus of the latest observations, HIP 65426 b, is a gas giant about five to ten times the mass of Jupiter located 385 Light years of the Earth in the centaur constellation.

It is about 100 times farther from its host star than Earth is from the sun, making it easy to distinguish. But it is still more than 10,000 times fainter than its host star, the equivalent of trying to spot a firefly next to a large lighthouse more than 50 miles away.

The latest observations put the planet’s atmospheric temperature at about 1,300 °C (2,370 °F) and suggest that its atmosphere contains clouds of red silicate dust. “It would be a terrible place to live,” Hinkley said. “You’d be roasted alive if you could float in the atmosphere.”

Astronomers have previously directly imaged about 20 exoplanets, including HIP 65426 b, using ground-based telescopes. But this meant dealing with noise introduced by Earth’s atmosphere and observations restricted to a narrow range of visible wavelengths. In contrast, the latest images, captured from the cold, airless environment of space, span a wide range of wavelengths, including infrared, which accounts for most of the light produced in the planet’s atmosphere.

“The best wavelength to observe a planet is the one at which it produces the most intrinsic light because it is directly related to the temperature of the planet,” said Dr. Beth Biller, co-principal investigator and astronomer at the University of Edinburgh. .

HIP 65426 b is only 10 to 20 million years old, much younger than the 4.5-billion-year-old Earth, and the latest observations provide new insights into what Jupiter and Saturn might have been like in their infancy.

Dr Vivien Parmentier, associate professor of physics at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the latest work, said: “Opening a new window on the universe always brings surprises. Planets get big and shrink over time and this baby planet seems to have shrunk faster than we expected. This gives us amazing information about how planets form and how our own solar system formed.”

In the future, James Webb is expected to make detailed observations of more distant Earth-like planets, including those with potential habitable conditions.

The findings are published in a preprint published in the archive website.

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