The TRAPPIST-1 star, an M dwarf, is seen to the left of its seven planets. It is glowing red, while the planets are about the same sizes, but their colors and surface features differ.

A Wonderland of Science Awaits

An illustration shows the seven Earth-sized exoplanets to the right of their red star, TRAPPIST-1.

Feature | December 12, 2022

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launched on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2021. In its first year in space, it's delivered amazing images and exoplanet science, and promises more. Each of the seven planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 star will continued to be studied by the telescope, but we should have initial science in 2023.

Since the discovery of seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 star, we’ve wanted to study them more closely. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will tell us more about them. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In September 2022, astronomers used NASA’s the Webb telescope to take a direct image of a planet outside our solar system. The exoplanet is a gas giant, meaning it has no rocky surface and could not be habitable.

Webb direct image of the exoplanet showing four different colors of light: violet, blue, orange and red.
The star HIP 65425 & 4 views of its planet “b.” The background of the image is black with many white & blue stars; it is not from Webb and is labeled the “Digitized Sky Survey.” Star HIP 65425 is labeled at top center. It has 4 diffraction spikes (telescope artifacts) from the top, bottom, left, & right. Diagonal lines down from the star to the bottom of the image highlight 4 inset boxes. From left to right, first is Webb’s NIRCam view of the exoplanet. It's a purple dot with purple bars at 11 & 5 o’clock. The bars are telescope artifacts, not physically present. The planet & artifacts have been colored purple. The filter used, F300M (3 micrometers), is on the image. Next is a similar NIRCam view using filter F444W (4.44 micrometers). This view is colored blue & has the artifact bars. Next is a MIRI view, colored orange. No bars are present. The filter is F1140C (11.40 micrometers). Finally, a MIRI view using filter F1550C (15.50 micrometers). It is a red large dot. A white star icon on all 4 images represents the parent star. This image shows the exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light, as seen from the James Webb Space Telescope: purple shows the NIRCam instrument’s view at 3.00 micrometers, blue shows the NIRCam instrument’s view at 4.44 micrometers, yellow shows the MIRI instrument’s view at 11.4 micrometers, and red shows the MIRI instrument’s view at 15.5 micrometers. These images look different because of the ways the different Webb instruments capture light. A set of masks within each instrument, called a coronagraph, blocks out the host star’s light so that the planet can be seen. The small white star in each image marks the location of the host star HIP 65426, which has been subtracted using the coronagraphs and image processing. The bar shapes in the NIRCam images are artifacts of the telescope’s optics, not objects in the scene. (Unlabeled version.) Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI).

The image, as seen through four different light filters, shows how Webb’s powerful infrared gaze can easily capture worlds beyond our solar system, pointing the way to future observations that will reveal more information than ever before about exoplanets.

Meanwhile, we are sharing some of our favorite direct images of exoplanets:

Beta Pictoris b GIF
Credit: M. Millar-Blanchaer, University of Toronto/F. Marchis, SETI Institute

Beta Pictoris b – 63 light-years from Earth

One of our best views of an exoplanet moving in its orbit around a distant star. Beta Pictoris b is a massive planet about 63 light-years away, orbiting the second-brightest star in the constellation Pictoris. This gas giant is about 10 times more massive than Jupiter, and passes through a bright ring of dust and debris as it circles its star. A series of images captured between November 2013 to April 2015 shows the exoplanet as it moves through 1.5 years of its 22-year orbital period. The planet is nearly 100,000 times fainter than its star; a device inside the telescope called a coronagraph blocks the light of star Beta Pictoris so the planet is visible.

HR 8799 – 129 light-years from Earth

Four giants twirl around their star in a slow dance over eight years of observation. Each moving dot is a gas giant planet more massive than Jupiter; the innermost planet takes 40 years to orbit its star, and the furthest takes 400 years! The wonder of seeing another star system 129 light-years away hasn’t faded since the images were first taken. The black circle in the center of the image is from a coronagraph, which purposely blocks the light of the young star to reveal the much fainter light from the planets. The HR 8799 system can be found in the constellation Pegasus.

HR 8799

LkCa15 – 450 light-years from Earth

Like a baby photo, the brightly colored lights show infant planets in the making. There are 450 light-years between Earth and LkCa15, a young star with a doughnut-shaped protoplanetary disk around it, also known as a birthplace for planets. This composite image of the young star system LkCa15 is the first photo of several planets being formed. Protoplanetary disks form around young stars using the debris left over from the star’s formation. Though scientists don’t know for certain, it’s theorized that planets then form from this spinning disk of gas and dust around the young star. The color in this image has been added afterward.

LkCa15 Baby photos
Credit: Stephanie Sallum, et al.

Read more

Exoplanet Travel Bureau


Planet hop from TRAPPIST-1e


Where the Grass is Always Redder


Where your shadow always has company

HD 40307 g

Experience the Gravity of a Super-Earth

51 Pegasi b

Greetings from your First Exoplanet

PSO J318.5-22

Where the Nightlife Never Ends