Austin (KXAN) – Researchers have announced that they have discovered the first exoplanet using the James Webb Space Telescope. The planet, named LHS 475 b, is about the size of Earth.
“There is no doubt that the planet exists. Webb’s primary data support this,” researcher Jacob Lustig-Jaeger said in a statement.
The planet is close to Earth. It is located just 41 light years away in the constellation Octane. The discovery was made on August 13, 2022 and presented on January 11, 2023.
An exoplanet is any planet that orbits a star outside of our solar system. Most of the discovered exoplanets are in our Milky Way galaxy. Only 193 of the thousands discovered are similar to Earth.
According to NASA, the planet is a small rocky world. It was discovered after NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite detected signs of a planet in this sector of space.
Researchers Lustig-Jaeger and Kevin Stevenson of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland, decided to observe this sector of space using the Webb telescope, which observes the universe in infrared light.
Only a few exoplanets have been discovered with a traditional telescope. This is because in deep space we can only see objects that emit or reflect light. Stars often outshine other objects due to their intense visible light.
NASA said that Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph, which can detect objects at greater distances, was able to detect this exoplanet with ease.
How similar to Earth is the new planet?
This exoplanet may have an atmosphere similar to Earth’s. It orbits closer to its star than we do, but it orbits a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are smaller than our Sun and not as hot. These are the same stars that stripped Superman of his powers.
Because of this, despite being close to the star, the atmosphere could still be there.
One of the advantages of the Webb telescope is its ability to detect signs of the atmosphere. The exoplanet does not have a dense methane atmosphere like Saturn’s moon Titan.
The atmosphere can be 100% carbon dioxide, which is hard to detect. More accurate measurements are needed before they can rule this out.
The exoplanet is warmer than Earth. If it has an atmosphere, it could be more like Venus, the researcher says.
How many more planets have we discovered?
According to NASA, the first exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s. Since then, thousands have been identified. Most of them were discovered indirectly.
Exoplanet observation can be done by watching a star dim as the planet passes in front of it, known as the transit method. Infrared light can also be used to detect exoplanets.
According to NASA’s Exoplanet Division, most planets are smaller. It is believed that in our galaxy there are more planets than stars, and their number can be in the trillions.
Most of the discovered exoplanets are similar to Neptune, they are smaller gas giants, and gas giants the size of Jupiter and Saturn are the second most numerous.