NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has confirmed the existence of an exoplanet for the first time. An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system.
The American space agency says that the exoplanet is almost the same size as Earth.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland examined new data collected by Webb to confirm.
Past observations by another NASA telescope have provided some evidence that an exoplanet exists. But Webb’s confirmation made the discovery official.
Another space telescope is called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. TESS was launched in 2018 with the goal of discovering additional planets outside our solar system.
The exoplanet was named LHS 475 b. Researchers say it’s pretty close to Earth for an exoplanet. It is located about 41 light-years away in the constellation Octanes. A light year is the distance light travels in one year.
Exoplanets are difficult for telescopes to detect. One reason is that bright light from orbiting stars can obscure them. The search process includes the observation of drops in the light level of the stars. Such blobs could be a planet passing or transiting in front of the star.
The researchers said that Webb was able to confirm the existence of the exoplanet using the transit observation method. They said the confirmation came quickly after only two transit events.
NASA said the Webb telescope was designed 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 is invisible to the human eye. NASA says the telescope’s instruments can detect infrared waves through gas and dust to observe distant objects.
Jacob Lustig-Yaeger helped lead the study. He said in a statement that the telescope data facilitated a clear confirmation. “There is no doubt that the planet is there.”
The finding was recently presented at the American Astronomical Society conference in Seattle, Washington.
Kevin Stevenson, another leader of the team, added that he found confirmation.impressive” because the exoplanet is small and rocky, making identification difficult.
Of all NASA’s operating telescopes, only Webb is equipped to collect data on the atmospheres of exoplanets. But in this case, researchers said they don’t have enough data to confirm what kind of atmosphere LHS 475 b has.
Scientists generally use computer models and telescope data to study the atmospheres of exoplanets. Erin May, another member of the research team, said the Webb telescope could easily identify a number of different molecules. “But we can’t do anything yet definitely results about the planet’s atmosphere,” he added.
While researchers say they can’t confirm what’s present in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, they’re pretty sure what isn’t. LHS 475 b, for example, cannot have a thick atmosphere of mostly methane, Lustig-Yaeger said.
The team even noted that the exoplanet has no atmosphere at all. Some of the available data suggest that the exoplanet may have a pure carbon dioxide atmosphere. But the researchers said they plan to collect more data in future observations to help them learn about atmospheric conditions.
NASA he says So far, more than 5,000 exoplanets have been confirmed. But Lustig-Yaeger noted that the Webb telescope is better equipped to detect small, rocky exoplanets. This will likely lead to more confirmation of exoplanets, he said.
And Lustig-Yaeger added: “We’re almost there to scratch the surface about what their atmosphere might be like.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on NASA reports.
Words in this Story
impressive – adj. to make a good or noticeable impression
definitely – adj. clear and unlikely to change
result – no. an opinion obtained after considering all the information about something
to scratch the surface – idiom. dealing with only a small part of a topic or problem
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