James Webb Space Telescope detects carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time | science and planet

The first of its kind in the James Webb Space Telescope. For the first time, the observatory has provided conclusive evidence that carbon dioxide (CO2) occurs in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. It’s about the gas giant WASP-39b, which orbits its star 700 light-years from Earth. Scientific discoveries like this give us a better understanding of how planets and solar systems form and how special we are.

WASP-39b … It’s in the atmosphere of this exoplanet – that is, a planet orbiting a star other than our sun – the James Webb Space Telescope observed carbon dioxide. WASP-39b is a gas giant planet with the same mass as Saturn and slightly larger in diameter than Jupiter. Thus, the gas giant is not only less compact, but also hotter. Unlike our cooler gas giants, WASP-39b orbits closely around its star. The distance between the two is only one-eighth the distance between our Sun and Mercury. As a result, the temperature rises to 900 ° C.

Scientists already discovered the exoplanet in 2011, but now they’ve also allowed the new James Webb Space Telescope to cast an infrared eye on it. Because when an exoplanet passes in front of its star, it temporarily dims the starlight. This dimming can tell us something about the atmosphere of this planet. Depending on its composition, a certain part of the light will be transmitted from the star and a certain part will not be transmitted. And so the atmosphere leaves a kind of signature in the starlight, as it were. Based on this, scientists can determine which chemical molecules are present, how thick the atmosphere is, whether there are any clouds, …. It was not unexpected that the scientists chose WASP-39b as their first target. The exoplanet has an extended atmosphere and a short orbital period of not more than 4 Earth days, so you can easily and frequently notice this “darkness”.

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Read more below the video.

To make this discovery, the team of scientists used the Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) of the largest space telescope ever. In the spectrum produced by the exoplanet WASP-39b, the researchers saw a clear signal of carbon dioxide2. It is the first detailed, indisputable evidence of carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system. “The discovery of such a clear signal bodes well as we begin to study the atmospheres on smaller, Earth-like planets, similar to our own,” said Natalie Batalha of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Understanding the composition of the planet’s atmosphere is important because it tells us something about the origin of the planet and how it evolved. “Ko2“Molecules are an important component of the planet’s formation story,” said Mike Lane of Arizona State University, a member of the research team. “Because of this CO2 We can tell how much solid and how much gas it took to form the gas giant planet. Over the next decade, the James Webb Space Telescope will make this measurement for many other planets. This will give us insight into how planets form and how special or not our solar system is.”

Read more below the image.

The transmission spectrum of the hot gas giant WASP-39b, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) on July 10, 2022. This is the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system. © NASA, ESA, CSA, Leah Hustak (STScI), Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

This was also confirmed by Professor Lynn Dessen of the Institute of Astronomy (KU Leuven), who was involved in the research. Scientists from KU Leuven played a key role in the development and calibration of many of the instruments on board. “Thanks to the high sensitivity and accuracy of the James Webb Space Telescope, we can finally determine the chemical composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets with great accuracy. This is one of the wonderful evidence that shows what the collaboration of thousands of scientists can lead to,” commented Professor Dessen.

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And the international story does not stop there. Because all of this scientific research falls under “James Webb Early Release Science,” where all measurements are immediately available to other researchers. “The goal is to rapidly analyze early-release science observations and develop accessible tools for use by the scientific community,” explains Vivian Parmentier of the University of Oxford. “This allows for contributions from around the world and ensures that the best possible science from the coming decades will come from observations.”

Who knows what we will discover in the coming years…

Read also:

‘You’ve never seen Jupiter like this’: The James Webb Telescope shows an amazing view of the planet

Research into habitable planets and the life path of galaxies: Here’s what we can expect from the James Webb Space Telescope in the next 20 years

NASA presents the first stunning images of the James Webb Telescope: Watch them here

Megan Vasquez

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