WASP-39b, a gas giant located about 700 light-years away, is turning into an extraplanetary treasure.
Earlier this year, the WASP-39b first detection The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar System.
Now, an in-depth analysis of data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has given us an absolute goldmine: the most detailed view ever of an exoplanet’s atmosphere.
The results include information about WASP-39b’s clouds, the first direct detection of photochemistry in an exoplanet’s atmosphere, and a near-complete inventory of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, revealing compelling clues to the exoplanet’s formation history.
These epic discoveries have been published in five newspapers. Natureand will pave the way for the final detection of chemical signatures of life outside the Solar System.
“These early observations herald more amazing science to come with JWST.” says astrophysicist Laura KreidbergDirector of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
“We tested the telescope to test its performance, and it was almost flawless—even better than we had hoped.”
Ever since the first exoplanets were discovered in the early 1990s, we’ve tried to learn more about these worlds orbiting alien stars.
However, difficulties arose. Exoplanets can be extremely small and extremely distant. We’ve never even seen many of them: We only know of their existence based on their influence on their host stars.
One of these effects occurs when an exoplanet passes between us and a star, an event known as transit. This causes the starlight to dim slightly; Periodic dimming events suggest the presence of an orbiting object. Based on the dimming and gravitational effects on the star, we can even tell how large the orbiting object is.
There is one more thing we can say based on transit data. Starlight changes as it passes through the atmosphere of the transiting exoplanet. Some wavelengths in the spectrum dim or brighten depending on how molecules in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit light.
The signal is weak, but with a sufficiently strong telescope and a series of transits, the varying absorption and emission characteristics in the spectrum can be decoded to determine the contents of an exoplanet’s atmosphere.
JWST is the most powerful space telescope ever launched. With three of his four instruments, he obtained detailed infrared spectra from the star WASP-39. Scientists then began to analyze the color codes.
First, a count of molecules in the atmosphere of WASP-39b was done. In addition to the above carbon dioxide, the researchers detected water vapor, sodium, and carbon monoxide. There was no detection made of methane, implying that WASP-39b’s metallicity was higher than that of Earth.
The abundance of these elements is also revealing. In particular, the ratio of carbon to oxygen indicates that the exoplanet formed much further from its host star than its current close position, occupying a four-day orbit. Modeling and observation data show that the exoplanet’s sky is not filled with water, but rather fragmented clouds of silicates and sulphides.
Finally, the observations revealed the presence of a compound called sulfur dioxide. Here in the Solar System, on rocky worlds like Venus and Jupiter moon io, sulfur dioxide is the result of volcanic activity. In the gas worlds, however, sulfur dioxide has a different origin story: It is produced when hydrogen sulfide is broken down into its components by light and the resulting sulfur is oxidized.
They are known as photon-induced chemical reactions. photochemistryand has effects on habitability, the stability of an atmosphere, and aerosol formation.
To be clear, WASP-39b is unlikely to be habitable for life as we know it for a number of reasons, including but not limited to its scorching temperature and gaseous nature, but photochemistry detection is one with implications. atmospheric studies of other worlds and understanding the evolution of WASP-39b itself.
Planetary scientists have been preparing for years for the insights into the atmospheres that the JWST is expected to provide. With the first detailed exoplanet atmosphere analysis, the space telescope seems to fulfill its promise.
Additionally, the teams involved in this research are preparing documents so that other scientists can apply their techniques to future JWST exoplanet observations.
We may not be able to detect signs of life in the atmosphere of an exoplanet with JWST – perhaps an even more powerful telescope will be needed to provide this fine level of detail – but with analysis from WASP-39b, this discovery is more compellingly insightful than ever before. .
“Data like this” says astronomer Natalie Batalha University of California Santa Cruz, “game changer.”
Research will be published Nature and can be read in preprints the game, the game, games, the gameand the game.
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