Planets with a solid surface such as ours are not as common in the Universe as we may like to believe. Let’s not forget that Jupiter and Saturn, meaning the first two biggest planets in our Solar System, are gaseous space objects. In other words, there’s no solid and safe zone there to land a spacecraft.
Rocky planets, meaning cosmic bodies that would be more suitable destinations, such as Earth or Mars, represent the main attraction for astronomers as well. Even though the world is still struggling to send astronauts to the nearest one, scientists can still study them using telescopes. NASA has some powerful telescopes out there in space, and the most powerful one is by far the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which was launched last year at Christmas.
We’re weeks away from Webb starting its full operation
According to NASA’s website, JWST is still calibrating its powerful instruments to become fully operational in just a few weeks. Until the end of the year, the telescope will gain data about two hot and rocky planets from beyond our Solar System that are bigger than Earth: 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b.
55 Cancri e is about 25 times closer to its host star compared to the distance between Mercury and our Sun. This can only mean that the exoplanet features scorching temperatures. 55 Cancri e needs only about 18 hours to complete a full orbit around its host star. Scientists even suspect that the planet has a thick atmosphere, and Webb is able to tell for sure if that’s the case and provide information about its composition.
As for LHS 3844 b, this exoplanet is also in a “close relationship” with its host star, completing a full orbit around it in only 11 hours. Oddly enough, this exoplanet is pretty small and cold, and it’s also worth exploring.
The JWST should be able to bring back images even from 13 billion years ago, which also means from 13 billion light-years away into space. That’s pretty much the period when the first stars illuminated the Cosmos.