September 28, 2022

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NASA's James Webb Telescope captures first evidence of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet WASP-39b

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

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system.

An exoplanet, WASP-39b, is a hot gas giant orbiting a sun-like star 700 light-years from Earth and part of a larger investigation on the Web that includes two other transiting planets, according to NASA. In a report, the agency noted that understanding the atmospheric makeup of planets like WASP-39b is critical to knowing their origins and how they evolved. new version.

“CO2 molecules are sensitive snippets of the planet’s formation story,” said Mike Lane, associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, in the press release. Lane is a member of JWST’s Early Release Science Team Transiting Exoplanets, which conducted the investigation.

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

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

“By measuring this carbon dioxide feature, we can determine the amount of solid versus the amount of gaseous material used to form this giant gaseous planet,” Lane added. “In the next decade, JWST will perform this measurement of a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how planets formed and the uniqueness of our solar system.”

very sensitive web telescope It was launched on Christmas Day 2021 into its current orbit 1.5 million kilometers (approximately 932,000 miles) from Earth. By observing the universe at longer wavelengths of light than using other space telescopes, Webb can study the beginning of time more closely, looking for unobserved formations among the first galaxies, and peer within the dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are currently forming.

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, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. , in version. (A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter).

“Depending on the composition, thickness and cloudiness of the atmosphere, it absorbs some colors of light more than others — which makes the planet appear larger,” said team member Monza Alam, a postdoctoral fellow in the Earth and Planetary Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution for Science. . “We can analyze these tiny differences in planet size to reveal the chemical composition of the atmosphere.”

Reaching this part of the light spectrum — which the Webb telescope makes possible — is essential to measuring the abundance of gases like methane and water, as well as carbon dioxide, which is thought to be present on many exoplanets, according to NASA. Because individual gases absorb different combinations of colors, researchers can examine “small differences in the brightness of light transmitted across a spectrum of wavelengths to determine exactly what the atmosphere is made of,” according to NASA.

Previously, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes have detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of this planet by Hubble and Spitzer have given us tantalizing hints at the possible presence of carbon dioxide,” Batalha said. “Data from JWST showed a clear and unmistakable advantage of CO2 that was so prominent that it was practically screaming at us.”

“As soon as the data came out on my screen, it took away the massive CO2 advantage,” team member Zafar Rostamkulov, a graduate student in Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in a news release. Release. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.

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

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