In the search for life on distant planets, scientists generally focus on identifying Earth-sized, rocky planets, finding planets in their host star’s habitable zone, and having available the telescope power to read the chemical make-up of the atmospheres.
A relatively small number of Earth-sized exoplanets discovered by telescopes in space and on Earth have meet some of the key characteristics. But now with the James Webb Space Telescope in operation, with its 21-foot high-precision mirror, scientists have been looking forward to finding small, rocky planets that meet all the key criteria.
And during its first year of operation, the JWST has already found and studied one small planet that meets at least some or those criteria. The planet identified, called LHS 475 b, is nearly the same size as Earth, having 99% of our planet’s diameter, scientists said, and is a relatively nearby 41-light-years away.
The research team that detected the small planet is led by Kevin Stevenson and Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, both of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The team chose to observe this target with Webb after reviewing targets of interest from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which hinted at the planet’s existence. Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) captured the planet easily and clearly with only two transit observations.
“There is no question that the planet is there,” said Lustig-Yaeger. “Webb’s pristine data validate it.”
“With this telescope, rocky exoplanets are the new frontier.”
Earth-sized exoplanets have been found earlier. The Trappist-1 system, only 39 light-years away, is famously known to include seven small, rocky planets, and it was detected by a small, ground-based telescope.
The Kepler Space Telescope also detected a debated but significant number of Earth-sized planets during its nine-year survey of one small section of the distant sky last decade. … Read more