There are thousands of exoplanets in our galaxy. Which of them should be hunted by JWST?


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Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 26 August 2023, at 07:44 am PDT

The study of exoplanets is going through a significant change, with more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets that have been discovered so far in our galaxy. Experts estimate that this number will increase substantially in the next decade. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has already identified over 4,000 candidate exoplanets, and the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO) is scheduled to launch in 2026.

We are on the verge of discovering more than 10,000 potentially habitable worlds in the near future. This is an astonishing concept, but it also challenges how we allocate our resources in the search for extraterrestrial life. The main issue is how to prioritize our search endeavors.

A recent paper published on the arXiv pre-print server focuses on identifying the best exoplanet candidates for further study using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The researchers aim to unravel the mysteries of diverse exoplanetary atmospheres and potentially find signs of life. They have developed a methodology that categorizes confirmed and candidate exoplanets based on two crucial parameters: planet radius and estimated surface temperature.

This method will help to identify prime candidates for closer scrutiny, creating a strategic approach to the quest for extraterrestrial life.

In the search for exoplanets, a careful evaluation process is used to identify those with the greatest potential for detectable transmission or emission spectra. This involves a dual-ranking process using transmission and emission spectroscopy metrics (TSM) and emission spectroscopy metrics (ESM). These metrics measure spectral strength in relation to background noise and are followed by an assessment of the feasibility of spectrum detection using existing observatories.

This process has yielded a select group of 103 exoplanets sourced from TESS candidates. These candidates were then subjected to the TESS Follow-up Observation Program, resulting in 14 exoplanets being confirmed as "best in class" targets for JWST observation. These 14 exemplars will undergo detailed characterization of their atmospheres, providing invaluable understanding for future astronomical missions such as the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large Survey (ARIEL).

This research emphasizes the importance of including these 14 exoplanets in JWST's observation itinerary, given their potential to advance our understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres. While ongoing observations may expand this list, these 14 luminaries are a sturdy foundation for exoplanetary exploration. The JWST's observational capabilities are highly sought after, making it a competitive resource for astronomical research.

The research has been published here.

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