NASA unveiled the first full-color images for its James Webb space telescope this week, and the results were absolutely astounding. While it’s easy to get caught up in the quality of the images that James Webb is capable of capturing, the newly activated telescope is more powerful than most might realize. In fact, the telescope is so powerful it detected water on a distant exoplanet.
Image source: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
The exoplanet in question is Wasp-96 b, one of the five targets that the telescope focused on first. Where James Webb photographed the Carina Nebula and other targets, though, it analyzed Wasp-96 b. And it did so quite effectively. In fact, the analysis of Wasp-96 b was so thorough that scientists discovered water on the exoplanet.
NASA used the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) to dive deep into the atmosphere make-up of the exoplanet. To do this, the scientists focused on completing what they call a transmission spectrum. To do this, the scientists compared starlight filtered through the planet’s atmosphere as it moves across the star, to the unfiltered starlight detected when the planet is next to a star.
NASA says that each of the 141 data points showcased on the graph it created (represented in the image above) shows the amount of a specific wavelength of light blocked by the planet and absorbed into its atmosphere. By looking at this data, NASA is able to determine more about the exoplanet’s makeup. That includes the fact that water can be found on this exoplanet.
Image source: dimazel / Adobe
The discovery of water in an exoplanet’s atmosphere with Webb is just a small testament to what this space telescope is capable of. Hubble first detected water on an exoplanet back in 2013. However, with Webb’s advancements, the telescope is even more capable of detecting water clearly. As Webb digs deeper into exoplanets, there’s no telling what scientists will find.
We already know that NASA has a full docket of scientific missions for Webb to complete over the coming years. One of those missions will include looking deeper into the black hole at the center of our galaxy. We’ve already captured an image of the Milky Way’s black hole. But, if we could learn more about it, and other black holes, we could better understand these intriguing galactic entities.
And, with Webb able to detect water on an exoplanet, we have a better chance of finding an Earth-like exoplanet that might support life.
By Joshua Hawkins