NASA’s James Webb telescope captures first evidence of carbon dioxide on exoplanet WASP-39b

NASA's James Webb telescope captures first evidence of carbon dioxide on exoplanet WASP-39b
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The exoplanet, WASP-39b, is a hot gas giant orbiting a sun-like star that is 700 light-years from Earth and part of a larger Webb probe involving two other transiting planets, according to NASA. Understanding the atmospheric makeup of planets like WASP-39b is critical to knowing their origin and how they evolved, the agency said. newsletter.

“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive trackers of the planet formation story,” said Mike Line, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Studies, in the news release. Line is a member of the JWST Transit Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team that led the investigation.

To observe WASP-39b’s atmosphere, the team observed carbon dioxide using the telescope’s Near Infrared Spectrograph, one of Webb’s four scientific instruments. Their research is part of the Early Release Science Program, an initiative designed to provide data from the telescope to the exoplanet research community as soon as possible and guide further scientific work and exploration.

This latest finding has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature.

“By measuring this property of carbon dioxide, we can determine how much solid material was used versus how much gaseous material was used to create this gas giant planet,” Line added. “Over the next decade, JWST will make this measurement for a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how planets form and the uniqueness of our own solar system.”

A new era in exoplanet research

extremely sensitive Webb telescope It was launched into its current orbit 1.5 million kilometers (about 932,000 miles) from Earth on Christmas Day 2021. By observing the universe with light at longer wavelengths than other space telescopes use, Webb can examine the beginning of time more closely, look for unobserved formations among the first galaxies, and see inside the dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are now forming.

In the captured spectrum of the planet’s atmosphere, the researchers saw a tiny peak between 4.1 and 4.6 microns — a “clear carbon dioxide signal,” said team leader Natalie Batalha, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California at Santa. Cruz is in release. (A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a metre.)

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“Depending on the composition, thickness, and cloudiness of the atmosphere, it absorbs some colors of light more than others—making the planet appear larger,” said team member Munazza Alam, a postdoctoral researcher in the Carnegie Institution Earth and Planets Laboratory. Science. “We can analyze these tiny differences in the size of the planet to reveal the chemical makeup of the atmosphere.”

Access to this part of the light spectrum made possible by the Webb telescope is crucial for measuring the abundance of gases such as methane and water, as well as carbon dioxide, which is thought to exist on many exoplanets, according to NASA. According to NASA, because individual gases absorb different color combinations, researchers can study “small differences in the brightness of transmitted light across a wavelength spectrum to determine exactly what an atmosphere is made of.”

Previously, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes had discovered water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of this planet with Hubble and Spitzer have given us encouraging hints that carbon dioxide may be present,” Batalha said. Said. “The data from the JWST showed a precise characteristic of carbon dioxide so prominent that it almost screamed at us.”

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“As soon as the data came to my screen, the enormous carbon dioxide feature caught me,” team member Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said in a report. release. “It was a special moment that crossed an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.

Discovered in 2011, WASP-39b has roughly the same mass as Saturn’s, roughly one-quarter that of Jupiter, and is 1.3 times larger in diameter than Jupiter. Because the exoplanet orbits very close to its star, it completes one revolution in a little over four Earth days.

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