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 is part of Webb’s larger investigation that includes two other transiting planets, according to NASA. POT. Understanding the atmospheric composition of planets like WASP-39b is critical to understanding their origins and how they evolved, the agency said in a Press release.

“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive tracers of planet formation history,” Mike Line, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, said in the news release. Line is a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team, which conducted the research.

The team conducted the carbon dioxide observation using the telescope’s near-infrared spectrograph, one of Webb’s four science instruments, to observe WASP-39b’s atmosphere. Their research is part of the Early Launch Science Program, an initiative designed to provide telescope data to the exoplanet research community as soon as possible, guiding further scientific study and discovery.

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

“By measuring this feature of carbon dioxide, we can determine how much solid material versus how much gaseous material was used to form this gas giant planet,” Line added. “In 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

the highly sensitive webb telescope launched on Christmas Day 2021 into its current orbit 1.5 million kilometers (nearly 932,000 miles) from Earth. By observing the universe with longer wavelengths of light than other space telescopes use, Webb can study the beginning of time more closely, search for unseen formations among the earliest galaxies, and peer into dust clouds where Stars and planetary systems are currently emerging.

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

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“Depending on the atmosphere’s composition, thickness, and cloudiness, it absorbs some colors of light more than others, making the planet appear larger,” said team member Munazza Alam, a postdoctoral fellow in the Earth Laboratory. and Planets from the Carnegie Institution for Science. “We can analyze these minute differences in the size of the planet to reveal the chemical composition 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 are thought to exist on many exoplanets, according to the POT. Because individual gases absorb different combinations of colors, researchers can examine “tiny differences in the brightness of transmitted light across a spectrum of wavelengths to determine exactly what an atmosphere is made of,” according to NASA.

Previously, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes discovered water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of this planet with Hubble and Spitzer had given us tantalizing clues that carbon dioxide might be present,” Batalha said. “The JWST data showed an unmistakable carbon dioxide feature that was so prominent it practically screamed at us.”

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“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, I was struck by the incredible carbon dioxide feature,” said team member Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student in the Morton K. Blaustein University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Johns Hopkins, in a news. release. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.

Discovered in 2011, WASP-39b’s mass is about the same as that of Saturn and about a quarter that of Jupiter, while its diameter is 1.3 times that of Jupiter. Since the exoplanet orbits very close to its star, it completes one circuit in just over four Earth days.

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