James Webb discovers carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time

James Webb discovers carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time

The planet is partially bloated and has a high temperature, estimated at about 900 degrees Celsius, in contrast to the cooler and more compact gas giants in our solar system.

In a statement published by the Goddard Space Flight Center website, the US space agency (NASA) announced that the agency’s James Webb telescope had detected, for the first time, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an Extrasolar Planet, the planet “Wasp- 39 b” (WASP-39 b), located 700 light-years from Earth and orbiting a Sun-like star.

According to the statement, this discovery, which was accepted for publication in the journal Nature, and was temporarily published on the arXiv website, provides evidence that the Webb telescope will in the future be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in the thin atmosphere of small rocky planets, as the data gives Which extracted from the James Webb telescope important information about the composition and emergence of the planet.

Characteristics of the discovered planet

According to the NASA statement, the discovered planet is a giant and hot gaseous planet with a mass of about a quarter of the mass of Jupiter (almost like Saturn) and a diameter that is 1.3 times larger than Jupiter, and it orbits very close to its star and an eighth of the distance between the Sun and Mercury. Completes one cycle in just over 4 ground days.

The planet is characterized by its extreme bloating and high temperature, which is estimated at about 900 degrees Celsius, in contrast to the colder and more compact gas giants in our solar system.

Previous observations of telescopes, including NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, revealed the presence of water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere, but this time thanks to the sensitivity of the James Webb Telescope, which was able to go deeper thanks to its large infrared ability. The presence of carbon dioxide on the planet is also detected.

Researchers used the James Webb Telescope’s Nearspace Spectrograph to analyze the light spectrum (Wikimedia)

The first obvious detection of carbon dioxide

According to a NASA statement, the planet “WASP-39 b” was discovered in 2011, based on accurate ground-based discoveries and thanks to the periodic dimming of the light of its host star during the transit of the planet in front of the star.

It is known that transiting planets, such as this planet, can allow the possibility of observing their orbits from the edge and not from above, and therefore this provides researchers with ideal opportunities to explore the atmosphere of planets, hence the planet “WASP-39 b” ) is an ideal target for spectroscopy thanks to its combination of bloated atmosphere and frequent transit. As a planet transits in front of its star, it completely blocks some of the star’s light (causing total dimming) while other light is transmitted to us through the planet’s atmosphere.

Because different gases absorb different combinations of colors, researchers can analyze small differences in the brightness of light transmitted across a spectrum of wavelengths to determine exactly what the atmosphere is made of.

As stated by the NASA statement, the scientific team had used the NIRSPec spectrometer in the James Webb telescope to analyze the light spectrum, especially the near infrared.

Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope, current as of September 2009. Top side.  - nasa
James Webb is expected to provide insight into the details of how planets form (NASA)

Through this, the telescope was able to provide data on the planet by capturing the tiny contrast in the brightness resulting from its passage in front of its star, and then the telescope conducted analyzes of “filtered” light through the planet’s atmosphere, as the various particles in the atmosphere leave specific signatures that enable them to determine their composition and thus The first clear and detailed evidence of carbon dioxide, which is being detected for the first time on a planet outside the solar system, has been obtained.

Other forecasts and prospects

The statement from NASA expects that this discovery will lead to the measurement of the abundance of gases such as water and methane, as well as carbon dioxide, which are believed to be present in many different types of exoplanets.

Mike Lane of Arizona State University, a member of the research team, says that carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive snippets of the planet’s formation story. The Webb Telescope in the next decade will make this measurement of a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how planets form.

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