The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope–a high-resolution camera with the potential to capture far more detail about space than ever before–has discovered its first planet, and experts say it has surprising similarities to Earth. However, the “exoplanets,” called LHS 475 b, contain information that could change astronomers’ understanding of the universe. (The Webb telescope, which launched on Christmas 2021, orbits the sun a million miles from Earth. It was designed to take images much fainter or farther away than its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope.) Read on to learn more about the cosmic secrets LHS 475 b could unlock.
LHS 475 b is almost exactly the size of Earth. It is located 41 light-years away in the constellation Octans and is known as an “exoplanet” because it is located outside our solar system. This week, NASA released the latest image captured by the telescope, which captured a star-forming region known as NGC 346. Located within a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 160,000 light-years from the Milky Way, it holds some important clues. About life as we know it. (For context: Earth is about eight light-minutes from the Sun.)
This image of NGC 346 shows young stars in the early years after they formed. Previous telescopes could only image celestial bodies five to eight times the mass of the Sun. But Webb’s telescope was able to detect stars one-tenth the size of the Sun. “This is the first time we’ve been able to detect the full star formation sequence for both low- and high-mass stars in another galaxy,” said Olivia Jones of the Science and Technology Facilities Board’s Center for Astronomy Technology.
“This means we have more data to study at high resolution, providing us with new information about how the birth of stars shapes their environment and even insight into the star formation process.” This will allow researchers to see if planets with different compositions from Earth – that is, lower metal content – formed in a similar way or differently. It could also allow scientists to obtain other important information that could change conventional wisdom.
Researchers believe that the first stars formed during “cosmic noon,” a period 2 to 3 billion years after the Big Bang. That era could have produced many star-forming regions like NGC 346. Scientists previously knew that NGC 346 was a star-making machine, but Webb’s telescope enabled them to see it in much greater detail.
“Even if NGC 346 is now the only massive, strongly star-forming cluster in our galaxy, it offers us a great opportunity to explore the conditions that existed at cosmic noon,” said Margaret Mixner, an astronomer with the Universities Space Research Consortium. .
The main feature that fascinated astronomers: the dusty bands surrounding the young stars. Previously, astronomers could not detect these clouds of dust and gas, which form disks around stars. These structures can provide clues about the origin of the planets, including their age. “We’re seeing the building blocks of not only stars but also potential planets,” said Guido De Marchi of the European Space Agency and the NASA research team.
“Since the Small Magellanic Cloud has a similar environment to galaxies during the cosmic noon, it is possible that rocky planets formed much earlier in the universe than we thought.”
This discovery is the latest of many discoveries obtained from the Webb telescope. In November, NASA announced that it had discovered two new galaxies. It is estimated that one of them formed 350 million years after the Big Bang, making it the most distant galaxy ever discovered. “The universe is 13.8 billion years old. We look back through it 98 percent of all time to see a galaxy like this,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer from the University of California, Santa Cruz who helped conceive of the Webb telescope idea in the 1980s, said. for Washington Post.