NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has made its first confirmation of an exoplanet. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside of our solar system.
The US space agency says the exoplanet is almost exactly the same size as Earth.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland examined new data collected by Webb for confirmation.
Previous observations by another NASA telescope provided some evidence for the exoplanet’s existence. But Webb’s confirmation made the discovery official.
The other space telescope is called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. TESS was launched in 2018 with the goal of discovering additional planets outside of our solar system.
The exoplanet has been named LHS 475 b. The researchers said it is pretty close to Earth to be an exoplanet. It is located about 41 light years away in the constellation Octans. A light year is the distance light travels in one year.
Exoplanets are difficult to identify for telescopes. One reason is that the bright light from orbiting stars can obscure them. The search process includes observing drops in the level of starlight. Such drops could be caused by a planet passing or transiting in front of a star.
The researchers said Webb was able to confirm the existence of the exoplanet using the observation-in-transit method. They said confirmation came quickly after just two transit events.
NASA has said that the Webb telescope was developed to be able to provide a high level of detail in its observations. It is equipped with the latest technology to observe infrared waves. These waves are a type of electromagnetic energy that the human eye cannot see. NASA says the telescope’s instruments can find infrared waves through gas and dust to observe distant objects.
Jacob Lustig-Yaeger helped lead the investigation. He said in a statement that the telescope data made it easy to make a clear confirmation. “There is no doubt that the planet is there.”
The finding was recently presented at an American Astronomical Society conference in Seattle, Washington.
Another team leader, Kevin Stevenson, added that he found confirmation “Awesome” because the exoplanet is small and rocky, making identification difficult.
Of all NASA’s operational telescopes, only the Webb is equipped to collect information about the atmospheres of exoplanets. But in this case, the researchers said they don’t have enough data to confirm what kind of atmosphere LHS 475 b has.
Scientists generally use computer models and data from telescopes to study the atmospheres of exoplanets. Another member of the research team, Erin May, said the Webb telescope can easily identify a number of different molecules. “But we still can’t do any definitive conclusions on the planet’s atmosphere,” he added.
While the researchers said they can’t confirm what’s present in the exoplanet’s atmosphere, they’re pretty sure what’s not. For example, LHS 475 b cannot have a dense atmosphere made mostly of methane, Lustig-Yaeger said.
The team even noted that the exoplanet may not have an atmosphere at all. Some of the available data suggests that the exoplanet may have an atmosphere of pure carbon dioxide. But the researchers said they plan to collect more data in future observations to help them learn about atmospheric conditions.
POT He says so far it has confirmed more than 5,000 exoplanets. But Lustig-Yaeger pointed out that the Webb telescope is much better equipped to discover small, rocky exoplanets. She said this will likely lead to many more exoplanet confirmations.
And Lustig-Yaeger added: “We have barely begun scraping the surface of what their atmospheres could be like”.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from NASA.
words in this story
Awesome – adj. make a good or marked impression
definitive – adj. clear and not likely to change
conclusion – n an opinion reached after considering all the information about something
scratch the surface – idiom. deal only with a small part of a topic or problem
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