NASA has released the first direct image of an exoplanet taken by the James Webb Space Telescope — and although there’s no chance that this particular alien world could harbor life as we know it, the picture serves as an early demonstration of the observatory’s power.
“We’ve only just begun,” Aarynn Carter, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz who led the analysis of the JWST image, said today in a NASA image advisory. “There are many more images of exoplanets to come that will shape our overall understanding of their physics, chemistry and formation.”
The planet in question, HIP 65426 b, is about 355 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Discovered five years ago, it’s a gas giant that’s roughly seven times as massive as Jupiter — and it’s about 100 times farther out from its parent star than Earth is from the sun.
That extreme distance from a dwarf star would make HIP 65426 b a prohibitively chilly ball of gas. But the distance also provides enough separation for JWST to distinguish the planet from the star.