New Worlds Ahead: Webb Telescope and The Discovery Of Exoplanets

The first solar system discovered outside of our own contained a pulsar rather than a main sequence star like our own. To say the least, it was unexpected.

We’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets since then (in every type of star system imaginable), and we’re still looking for smaller, more Earth-like worlds. (For the most recent findings, go to JPL’s Planetquest website.)

Exoplanets And Webb Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope will be used to investigate exoplanet atmospheres in order to look for building elements of life elsewhere in the cosmos. Webb, on the other hand, is an infrared telescope. What does this have to do with studying exoplanets?

Webb telescope will employ the transit method to research exoplanets, which means it will look for dimming of a star’s light as its planet passes between us and the star. (Astronomers refer to this as a “transit.”)

Collaboration with ground-based telescopes can aid in determining the mass of planets using the radial velocity technique (i.e., measuring the star wobble caused by a planet’s gravitational attraction), and Webb will subsequently conduct spectroscopy of the planet’s atmosphere.

Webb will also be equipped with coronagraphs, which will allow direct imaging of exoplanets around bright stars. The image of an exoplanet is merely a place, not a huge landscape, but we may learn a lot about it by analyzing that spot.

This includes its hue, seasonal changes, vegetation, rotation, and weather… How is this accomplished? Spectroscopy is the answer once more.


The science of measuring the intensity of light at different wavelengths is known as spectroscopy. Spectra are graphical representations of these measurements that are crucial to understanding the composition of extraterrestrial atmospheres.

The starlight travels through the atmosphere of a planet when it passes in front of it. If the planet, for example, has sodium in its atmosphere, the star’s spectrum, when combined with the planet’s, will have an “absorption line” in the spectra where sodium should be seen (see graphic below).

This is because different elements and molecules absorb light at different energies, and we can tell where in a spectrum the signature of sodium (or methane, or water) may appear if it is present.

Why is it important to use an infrared telescope to study these exoplanets’ atmospheres?

The advantage of infrared observations is that molecules in extraterrestrial atmospheres have the most spectral characteristics at infrared wavelengths. Of course, the ultimate goal is to find a planet with an atmosphere that is similar to Earth’s.

The Planetary System

Scientists hope to learn more about our own solar system in addition to studying worlds outside of it. Webb really compliments NASA’s other solar system missions, such as ground-based, orbital, and deep-space observatories.

With Webb’s significant advances in sensitivity and resolution, we can build a bigger, more complete picture of the objects in our solar system using data from many wavelengths and sources.

Webb will aid in the understanding of trace organics in Mars’ atmosphere, as well as investigations to confirm the findings of Mars rovers and landers.

Webb’s views of the outer solar system will be combined with Cassini’s observations of Saturn to provide a more complete picture of the seasonal weather on our large gas planets.

Asteroids And Minor Bodies

When it comes to asteroids and other minor bodies in our solar system, there are some peculiarities in their spectra that Earth-based observatories miss, but Webb will notice. Webb will contribute to our understanding of the mineralogy of these rocky things.

The James Webb Space Telescope will take pictures of…

Planetary Systems And Life

In 1992, the first planet identified outside of our solar system was discovered. Since then, we’ve found a slew of planets orbiting different stars. Planets are, in fact, quite frequent, as we have discovered.

The ultimate goal of the search is to identify planets orbiting their star in the habitable zone, where liquid water and possibly even life could exist.

Planet Formation And Evolution

Planet formation and evolution, as well as the material around stars where planets form, are needed to trace the beginnings of the Earth and life in the Universe. Understanding how planets’ building components are assembled is a critical topic.

Scientists are unsure whether all planets in a planetary system form in the same spot or move inwards after forming in the system’s beyond reaches.

It’s also unknown how planets reach their final orbits or how huge planets in solar systems like ours affect smaller planets.

Frozen Planets And Dusts

The frozen planets and dust in our Solar System’s far reaches are evidence of conditions that existed when our Solar System was extremely young.

These conditions can be directly compared to the objects and dust seen around other stars by scientists. The James Webb Space Telescope ensitive equipment will be able to take infrared photos of big planets and planetary systems and use their spectra to determine their ages and masses.

Spectra Of Discs

Webb will also be able to examine the spectra of discs orbiting other stars in order to figure out what makes up the discs that form planetary systems.

The Solar System

The Solar System is a system that makes
Scientists want to understand more about our own planet in addition to studying worlds outside our solar system.

Webb telescope will be powerful enough to discover and describe comets and other frozen bodies in our solar system’s farthest reaches, which may hold clues to our origins on Earth.

Webb will enable a wide range of scientific experiments in our own solar system. Webb’s spectrum coverage and sensitivity in the near and mid-infrared complement NASA’s other Solar System missions, such as spacecraft and rovers, as well as ground-based observatories.


Webb will contribute to planetary science’s overarching goals, which include understanding planet origin, evolution, and habitat suitability. Webb will enable a suite of Solar System observations of planets, moons, and other tiny bodies such as asteroids and comets, which will help us better comprehend our own planetary system.

Because Webb’s exceptional sensitivity and spectral resolution are not typical of most planetary missions, most solar system objects will see significant breakthroughs in compositional analyses.

Webb, for example, can look for compounds in the Martian atmosphere that could be indications of past/present life and conduct global studies that complement the rovers and landers.

When Cassini’s mission concluded in 2017, presently there are no other dedicated, active missions in the outer solar system, Webb will play a significant role in planetary science.

Seasonal observations of the large planets, as well as observations of new bodies and satellites, will be crucial for future planetary missions.

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