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Tuesday January 31, 2023

JWST discovers 'whole new world' exactly size of Earth

"Webb is bringing us closer and closer to a new understanding of Earth-like worlds outside our solar system," Mark Clampin, the director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, says

By Web Desk
January 14, 2023
An artists conception of the rocky planet LHS 475 b.— NASA
An artist's conception of the rocky planet LHS 475 b.— NASA 

Researchers have discovered a weird new planet. It resembles Earth in size almost perfectly. It is uneven and it is not too far away (41 light-years away). 

This exoplanet, which is a planet outside of our solar system, was discovered for the first time by astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope, the most potent space telescope ever created. It is known as LHS 475 b.

"Webb is bringing us closer and closer to a new understanding of Earth-like worlds outside our solar system, and the mission is only just getting started," Mark Clampin, the director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, said in a statement.

A graphic showing how the James Webb Space Telescopes spectrograph looked into LHS 475 bs atmosphere.— NASA
A graphic showing how the James Webb Space Telescope's spectrograph looked into LHS 475 b's atmosphere.— NASA

However, the planet has several significant differences from Earth. Every two days, LHS 475 b makes a relatively tight orbit around its tiny star. The star, known as a "red dwarf," is cooler because it is half as big as the sun. Overall, this planet is "a couple of hundred degrees warmer than Earth," according to NASA.

"With this telescope, rocky exoplanets are the new frontier."

It is significant that LHS 475 b might still have an atmosphere. But in order to confirm its precise composition, Webb will need to be pointed again at this planet in order to gather more precise data, which is planned for later this year.

"The observatory's data are beautiful," Erin May, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement. 

"The telescope is so sensitive that it can easily detect a range of molecules, but we can’t yet make any definitive conclusions about the planet’s atmosphere." 

With a mirror more than 21 feet broad, the massive Webb telescope is made to gather light from some of the most ancient galaxies that have ever existed billions of years ago. However, it also has specialised equipment known as spectrographs that can identify what is in an exoplanet's skies.

Today, there isn't another functioning telescope that can investigate the contents of an Earth-sized planet's atmosphere. Earth is a little planet. Jupiter-like exoplanets are therefore simpler to find and study.

Webb will probably find and examine more Earth-sized, rocky planets. "These first observational results from an Earth-size, rocky planet open the door to many future possibilities for studying rocky planet atmospheres with Webb," NASA's Clampin said.