NASA confirmed an exoplanet discovery by the James Webb Space Telescope Wednesday. Planet LHS 475 b is 41 light years away from Earth and is 99% the size of our planet.
The small, rocky planet is much closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, completing its orbit in two days while ours takes a year. Even with the red dwarf star being less hot, LHS 475 b is hundreds of degrees hotter than Earth.
“These first observational results from an Earth-size, rocky planet open the door to many future possibilities for studying rocky planet atmospheres with Webb. Webb is bringing us closer and closer to a new understanding of Earth-like worlds outside our solar system,” NASA Astrophysics Division Director Mark Clampin said in a release from the agency.
Now researchers will try to glean whether LHS 475 b has a gaseous atmosphere and, if it does, what its composition is.
A methane-heavy atmosphere akin to that of Saturn’s moon Titan has been ruled out, but a carbon dioxide-heavy atmosphere like that of Venus is still on the table.
“We’re at the forefront of studying small, rocky exoplanets. We have barely begun scratching the surface of what their atmospheres might be like,” researcher Jacob Lustig-Yaeger said.
Learning the atmospheres of Earth-sized exoplanets, those outside our solar system, is the first step in determining their habitability for life, even human life.
“The search for life on exoplanets will fundamentally rely on the detailed characterization of exoplanet atmospheres,” Mr. Lustig-Yaeger said at the American Astronomical Society meeting Wednesday where the findings were presented, according to technology and science news site The Verge.
Another observation of LHS 475 b with the telescope is planned for this summer.