Astronomy and SpaceScience

James Webb Telescope discovers nearby Earth-size planet

For the first time since the James Webb has been launched into space, researchers have confirmed the discovery of an exoplanet exactly the same size as Earth using the instrument.

This illustration is based on observations from Webb. Source: JWST

According to the research team led by Kevin Stevenson and Jacob Lustig-Yaeger of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, LHS 475 b is a “small, rocky planet” estimated to be 99% of Earth’s diameter. The planet is relatively close, about 41 light years away and is only a few hundred degrees warmer than Earth.

Researchers used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to observe exoplanet LHS 475 b on August 31, 2022. As this spectrum shows, Webb did not observe a detectable quantity of any element or molecule. The data (white dots) are consistent with a featureless spectrum representative of a planet that has no atmosphere (yellow line). The purple line represents a pure carbon dioxide atmosphere and is indistinguishable from a flat line at the current level of precision. The green line represents a pure methane atmosphere, which is not favored since if methane were present, it would be expected to block more starlight at 3.3 microns. Credits: Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, L. Hustak (STScI); Science: K. Stevenson, J. Lustig-Yaeger, E. May (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), G. Fu (Johns Hopkins University), and S. Moran (University of Arizona)

“This rocky planet confirmation highlights the precision of the mission’s instruments,” Stevenson said. “And it is only the first of many discoveries that it will make.” Lustig-Yaeger agreed. “With this telescope, rocky exoplanets are the new frontier.”

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