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Exoplanet

Celestial Tour: Exoplanets

We don't expect life--at least the kind we're familiar with--to exist on gaseous, surfaceless planets. Webb, however, will be able to study the atmospheres of smaller planets--perhaps even super-Earths with land or oceans where life could flourish.

Credits

Hubble Anniversary (20th & 25th)
 
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University
 
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
 

  • Ground-based image of Carina Nebula © R. Gendler, J.-E. Ovaldsen, C. Feron, and C. Thone

  • Twinkling star movie courtesy of Applied Optics Group (Imperial College), William Herschel Telescope

  • Gran Telescopio Canarias photo courtesy of Victor R. Ruiz

  • M51 image from Gran Telescopio Canarias courtesy of IAC/GTC

  • Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory

  • Written by Vanessa Thomas and John Stoke

  • Designed by Marc Lussier and John Godfrey 

  • Music courtesy of Associated Production Music

Transcript

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 The edge of the Earth as seen from Space. Text, In 2021, a new telescope will take to the stars. The James webb Space telescope, located far beyond Earth's Moon in the bitter cold of space, will search for infrared light, the radiation humans perceive as heat. A massive cylindrical scaffold structure is moved. A man in a white suit and face mask works intently on its surface. Text, Webb's infrared detecting vision will examine distant planets for traces of water vapor, assisting in the search for another living world. A huge panel made of gold colored hexagons arranged in a circle. Text, James Webb Space Telescope Exoplanets. 


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[SPACE MUSIC] 


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 A nebula in space, a cluster of dense clouds in shades of red, purple, and yellow, speckled with bright stars. Text, In the 1990's the Hubble Space Telescope peered deep into the stellar factory we call the Orion Nebula. Small dark disc shaped objects appear in circles. Text, There it found disks of dust and gas swirling around many young stars. These disks are the birthplace of planets. Hubble cannot gaze into the disks to see planets forming. within though. An animation of a Disk, a bright center surrounded by a ring of dark clouds. Text, Thick dust blocks the view. However, with its dust penetrating infrared vision, Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look deeper inside these disks. Animation of the disk's reddish clouds spinning around the central bright point.Text, Webb will study the chemical compositions of the disks. It will compare young and old disks to see how they change with time. Webb will find out how the composition of those disks compares with our own solar system. 


A line of pale clouds creating a horizon against a backdrop of black space filled with stars, a bright glowing white light on the edge. A small dark sphere grows larger as it approaches. Text, It might even be able to see planets forming within the disks. In the 2000's, Hubble spotted a planet orbiting inside a dusty ring surrounding the star Fomalhaut. An image of a spray of deep red dust around a dark center. In the red area, a tiny sphere is circled. Text, It was the first time any planet outside our solar system had been observed in visible light. 


The speck of a planet moves along a line on a smaller screen showing Fomalhaut B. The planet moves along a path to different positions in 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012. Text, over time, Hubble watched the planet move in a curved path around the star, confirming that it was in orbit. Hubble's sighting of the planet was remarkable, because exoplanets are extremely difficult to see, especially in visible light. 


An illustration of a grayish blue planet next to a massive bright yellow star. Text, Visible view, artist concept. In infrared light though they're a little easier to find. In infrared light, stars are usually dimmer while planets appear brighter. Infrared view, artist concept. The planet turns bright orange and the star becomes dimmer blue. 


A Hubble Infrared image of glowing orange specks in a deep blue background. Text, A few planets have been spotted in infrared light. These were uncovered in archived Hubble observations after being discovered by ground-based telescopes. Only after their host star's light had been removed could the planets be seen. 


A bright splash over the specks of planets disappears, leaving them more visible. 


An illustration of the James Webb telescope, its hexagonal gold plates mounted upright on a long metal craft with long arms extending from the plate's edges forming a point in front of it. Text, With its exceptional infrared vision, Webb should be able to study many more planet orbiting other stars. The hazy surface of a reddish planet. Text, In 2000, Hubble became the first telescope to detect the atmosphere of an exoplanet. A small round planet passes in front of a blazing star. Text, When the Jupiter-like planet traveled in front of its star from our point of view, some of the starlight filtered through the planet's atmosphere. When that filtered light reached hubble, it was imprinted with the chemical composition of the planet's atmosphere. An illustration of light passing from the planet through a prism and into a band of rainbow visible light with two stripes missing in the yellow area. Below the band of colors, a graph showing deep grooves where the stripes in the light band are. 


Animated water, carbon dioxide, and methane molecules spin over a jagged line graph of the spectrum of the planet's atmosphere. Text, In the atmospheres of this and other Jupiter-like planets, Hubble has found such things as water vapor, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and methane. These are some of the atmospheric ingredients we'd seek when searching for life on other worlds. 


But we don't expect life, at least the kind we're familiar with, to exist on those gaseous surfaceless planets. Webb, however, will be able to study the atmosphere of smaller planets, perhaps even super Earths with land or oceans where life could flourish. 


An animated small planet floats in the blackness of space against a blanket of stars. It rotates around a red star. Text, One day, Webb could become the first telescope to identify hints of life on a planet. much like our own. Webb, however, will be able to study the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets similar in size to Earth. Webb will be able to detect molecules like water and methane in these distant world, gathering evidence to help us identify those with conditions potentially suitable for life.