The James Webb Space Telescope has announced the discovery of its first exoplanet. This new planet is rocky, almost the same size as Earth, and sits 41 light-years away. It orbits a red dwarf star that is slightly cooler than the Sun.
This discovery marks a significant milestone for the Webb telescope. After using data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the team of researchers determined the target of their observations. Next, they observed the target’s star with the Webb telescope, watching for dips in the starlight as the planet orbited the parent star.
Scientists believe that the planet is similar to Earth and may have clouds. However, they are still determining whether or not the planet has an atmosphere. For now, the only thing scientists know for sure is that the planet is warmer than Earth. Depending on how the planet’s temperature compares to that of the Earth, this might hint at potential for habitability.
Although the JWST has been used to discover a variety of other planets, the discovery marks the first time the telescope has been able to characterize a planet’s atmosphere. As the only telescope capable of doing this, the team will be able to learn more about the planet over time.
The team used the Near-Infrared Spectrograph instrument on Webb to observe the transits of the planet in front of the parent star. By doing this, the team was able to capture the planet and confirm its existence.
LHS 475 b is an Earth-like planet that orbits a red dwarf star that is a little cooler than the Sun. It is located in the constellation Octans. In just two days, the planet completes an orbit. With an orbit length of just over two days, this makes the planet the closest to the star of any known planet in the solar system.
The planet’s size, shape, and temperature are consistent with how Earth is formed. In fact, this exoplanet is even close enough to the star that the planet is less than half the temperature of the Sun. Other telescopes have also found that the star is surrounded by a disk of dust that is a remnant of the planet’s formation. This opens the possibility that the planet could have an atmosphere similar to Venus’s.
Although it needs to be more apparent how the planet’s atmosphere would look, the team has determined that the planet has carbon dioxide as its primary component. Carbon dioxide is an atmospheric component less dense than air and therefore has a smaller atmospheric volume. Therefore, the planet is likely to have an atmosphere hundreds of degrees warmer than Earth.
If the planet’s atmosphere does have an atmosphere, it might be made up of clouds like those seen on Venus. Scientists have yet to determine if the planet has a thick methane atmosphere, but the fact that the planet is warmer than the Earth means that it has a high chance of having an atmosphere.