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According to JWST weekly schedules (found here), the Trappist -1 system was among the telescope's targets during early July. The only JWST image of an exoplanet in the Trappist-1 system that I've managed to find was posted by a redditor (as explained by an article here). This is a processed image and the poster failed to provide a link to the original data.

So is there any JWST image released by NASA of the Trappist-1 system or any of its planets? If not, why is it taking NASA too long?

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  • $\begingroup$ What images of any close-orbiting exoplanet do you think JWST will obtain?? $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Sep 20 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'm no expert and so I have no idea. It's just that I've recently read somewhere ridiculous posts by some conspiracy theory subscribers that NASA is holding back the images of these exoplanets (aliens and so on), so I just wanted to get to the bottom of this. $\endgroup$
    – William
    Sep 20 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Well there won't be any images of any of the Trappist planets because JWST does not have that capability. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Sep 20 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ The image you posted is the host star, not an exoplanet. Furthermore, data processing takes as long as it takes. There are thousands of people all around the globe involved in the data processing and checking it off, so naturally the collaborations take a while until they reach concensus. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 18:18

2 Answers 2

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The Trappist-1 system consists of an ultracool red dwarf at a distance of 12.5 pc from the Sun, surrounded by a system of planets with orbital semi-major axes ranging from 0.01 to 0.06 au.

As seen from the Earth, the separation between central star and the exoplanets would be 0.001 to 0.006 arcseconds.

The imaging resolution of the JWST at best is about 0.06 arcsec in the near-infrared (2 micrometres) so there is no way that the star and the (much fainter) exoplanets can be resolved separately in any image taken of Trappist-1 by JWST.

Looking at the JWST schedule, I see that Trappist-1 is being observed using NIRISS Single-Object Slitless Spectroscopy. i.e. This is spectroscopy, not imaging. Any image$^\dagger$, will actually be a smeared out "rainbow" in the near-infrared part of the spectrum. The aim will presumably to look for faint traces of the exoplanets in the stellar spectrum as they move in front of, and behind, the star.

$\dagger$ Actually, I see that the spectrally dispersed image is accompanied by a snapshot undispersed image to confirm the positioning of the target in the field of view. Nevertheless, the point about not being able to resolve the star and exoplanets separately remains.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your excellent answer. I just need your confirmation regarding one more thing: is the redditor's image made from this NIRISS spectroscopy data? And where does NASA release this NIRIS data? $\endgroup$
    – William
    Sep 20 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @William the article you referenced answers both those questions. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Sep 20 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ This also addresses the motivation from the comments that "NASA is holding back the images of these exoplanets (aliens and so on)" - JWST is an amazing tool....but it would have a job resolving a planet, let alone any alien life on it. Too many conspiracy theories based off sci-fi with no understanding of the constraints of reality. $\endgroup$ Sep 23 at 9:43
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As ProfRob mentioned, a literal image is not being obtained. The system is being measured spectroscopically, so the output (…after calibration, formatting, etc.) will be some sort of chart- a ‘squiggly line,’ perhaps a scatterplot. Impressionable laymen -and the media outlets that pander to such reactionaries- don’t ‘get’ squiggly lines or scatterplots. So popsci.com, Mashable, etc. won’t echo it.

This has spilled over back to university and FFRDC public affairs staff; if it won’t benefit the university/research group via positive press, what incentive do they have to push it?

The conspiracy nuts have incentive, of course- Argument from Silence is by definition an argument, and the nutz will hunt for any argument that makes sense (to them), externally (or internally) consistent or not.

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