Department in the News
"The Webb Space Telescope Snaps Its First Photo of an Exoplanet"
September 12, 2022, by Jonathan O'Callaghan
Astronomers have revealed the first photograph of an exoplanet taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The image shows the bright blob of a world seven times heavier than Jupiter that orbits a star nearly 400 light-years away. The groundbreaking result is the latest in a slew of early exoplanet findings from the telescope, and a test of technologies that will enable direct imaging of Earth-like planets by future space telescopes.

The discovery follows hot on an announcement from two weeks ago, when a different team of astronomers reported that they have used the JWST to detect carbon dioxide in a giant exoplanet called WASP-39 b located 650 light-years from Earth—the first time the gas has ever been seen in an exoplanet. They also spotted a mystery molecule in the atmosphere. That same team is also studying two more giant worlds, with results expected in the coming months that will help piece together an almost complete picture of the atmospheric composition of gas giants like these. "That's the power of James Webb," said Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the University of Chicago and the team's co-leader.

Department members: Jacob L. Bean

"Scientists announce first detection of carbon dioxide on a faraway planet with James Webb Space Telescope"
August 25, 2022
Graphic courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted
UChicago News, by Louise Lerner
Scientists have announced that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has allowed them to capture definitive evidence for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet about 700 light-years away from Earth.

The finding, accepted for publication in Nature, is the first indisputable evidence for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star.

The results are indicative of the telescope's ability to spot key molecules like carbon dioxide in a wide variety of exoplanets--including smaller, cooler, rocky planets--providing insights into the composition, formation, and evolution of planets across the galaxy.

"When we first looked at this data, all I could say was, 'Holy cow,'" said Jacob Bean, a UChicago astronomer who co-leads the team working to analyze exoplanet results from the new telescope. "The whole group was just blown away. The telescope is working even better than we hoped it would."

"And this discovery is from just a small portion of the observing time," he said. "This is like the first chapter in an entirely new book we'll be writing about exoplanets in the coming months."

Department members: Jacob L. Bean