Webb Telescope Reveals Toxic Atmosphere of a Planet 700 Light Years away

Webb Telescope Reveals Toxic Atmosphere of a Planet 700 Light Years away
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An artist's impression of the WASP-39b surface.

astrophysicists around the world no strangers To WASP-39b, an exoplanet orbiting a star about 700 light-years from Earth, they’ve never actually seen it directly. Now, the Webb Space Telescope is providing new information about this distant world: Its observations have revealed a list of recipes for the planet’s toxic atmosphere.

WASP-39b is a gas giant with the mass of Saturn and the size of Jupiter, but orbits its star at the same distance as Mercury is from the Sun, making the exoplanet very, very hot. exoplanet discovered in 2011; Earlier this year, Webb telescope observations bring out carbon dioxide lurking in its atmosphere.

More molecules and chemical compounds have now been identified, including evidence of water, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium. Findings are being reviewed for publication and available now On the arXiv preprint server.

“This is the first time we have seen concrete evidence of photochemistry – chemical reactions initiated by energetic starlight – on exoplanets,” said Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford, lead author of the paper describing the existence of sulfur dioxide. atmosphere of the planet Description of the European Space Agency. “I see this as a really promising prospect for advancing our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres. [this mission]”

Sniffing chemicals floating in the atmosphere of a distant world is no small feat. The closest confirmed exoplanet is 24.9 trillion miles away. Still, Webb was able to detect such small molecules in WASP-39b.

Four graphs showing the observed spectra.

Webb observed the planet, waiting for its host star to pass in front of it; when it did, the star’s light backlit the planet. Webb took infrared wavelengths of this light, and scientists can figure out what chemicals are in the atmosphere based on the wavelengths of light they absorb.

Webb’s capabilities have broader implications for understanding the diversity of exoplanets in our galaxy, considering their potential habitability. With its extreme heat and gas composition, WASP-39b is certainly not suitable for any life we ​​know of – but it does showcase the kind of molecular-level analysis Webb could apply to distant worlds.

Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and co-author of the latest study in the ESA edition.

Data suggested to researchers chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere may have been broken up in clouds instead of being evenly distributed in its atmosphere. And based on the relative abundance of chemicals in the atmosphere, the researchers think WASP-39b arose over time as planetesimals coalesced.

Although we don’t know where Webb will turn his infrared Then look, we know that, at one point, exoplanets will be on the agenda. Webb has already studied the atmospheres of the rocky planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system and may return to the system when the time comes. You can follow Webb’s latest goals the game.

More: Webb Telescope Brings Focus to a Once Blurred Galaxy

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