In addition to exploring the farthest reaches of space and time, there’s now a new leader in the search for exoplanets near Earth. After 20 years of struggle, the James Webb Space Telescope has finally proven it’s worth, and then some.

Less than a year into operation, JWST has discovered a new planet called LHS 475 b, a rocky world the same size as Earth, orbiting a red dwarf star only 41 light years away. Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) captured the planet easily and clearly with two transit observations. The light quickly dims as a planet swings by the star.

Planetary scientists at John’s Hopkins University made the discovery, and also observed that the planet is hundreds of degrees warmer than Earth, possibly making it an exoVenus.

They are now making observations of the planet’s atmosphere. It’s difficult to imagine the level of precision needed to detect a thin layer of atmosphere around a planet that’s already just a tiny dot next to a giant star quadrillions of miles away. The research team is led by Kevin Stevenson and Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, both of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Artist’s impression of LHS 475 from space

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) already produced the most detailed information ever on an exoplanet back in November 2022, making it the world we know most about after the eight major planets in our Solar System. Observations of the planet WASP-39b reveals patchy clouds, an intriguing chemical reaction in its atmosphere, and provide hints about its formation. WASP-39b is a ‘hot Jupiter’ located 215 parsecs (700 light years) from Earth.

WASP-39b (artist’s impression) is similar in composition to Saturn

Further studies will show more about LHS 475 b. We already know it isn’t habitable by life as we know it, due to it’s high temperature, fast orbit (the year is 2 days!), and no sign of oxygen.

But there will be many new planets to explore. Jacob Lustig-Yaeger of Johns Hopkins/NASA said: “With this telescope, rocky exoplanets are the new frontier.” JWST is uniquely designed to solve mysteries around exoplanets with the combination of high resolution infrared observing modes, detailed imaging, and spectroscopy.

The planet LHS 475 b is in the constellation Octans, named after the octant, a navigational instrument. It is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere from Earth. Space telescopes see almost the whole sky. You can learn more about the exoplanet portion of the JWST mission here.


David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.