NASA finds first clear evidence of CO2 in an exoplanet’s atmosphere

NASA finds first clear evidence of CO2 in an exoplanet’s atmosphere

from NASA James Webb Space Telescope has become known for capturing stunning images from space, but the telescope recently made a different kind of discovery – the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

CO2 — the compound that humans exhale — has been found in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star 700 light-years away, NASA said.

The hot gas giant planet was discovered in 2011 and was named WASP-39 b. Its mass is approximately one-quarter that of Jupiter and approximately the same as that of Saturn. However, its diameter is 1.3 times that of Jupiter.

The discovery shows that the Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in the thinner atmospheres of smaller rocky planets in the future.

NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in WASP-39 b’s atmosphere.

Earlier this month, NASA released a false-color composite image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 27, 2022. / Credit: NASA via AP

Earlier this month, NASA released a false-color composite image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 27, 2022. / Credit: NASA via AP

“Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide in WASP-39 b bodes well for detecting atmospheres on smaller Earth-sized planets,” Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz said in a statement. Batalha led the research team, which used Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph for its observations of WASP-39 b.

“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the huge carbon dioxide resource grabbed me,” said Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Early Release Science team at the Transiting Exoplanet Community. JWST “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science.”

The composition of a planet’s atmosphere can tell us something about the planet’s origin and how it evolved, says NASA.

“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive markers of the history of planet formation,” said Mike Line of Arizona State University, another member of the research team. “By measuring this characteristic of carbon dioxide, we can determine how much solid versus how much gaseous material was used to form this gas giant planet.

The first color photo of the James Webb Telescope was revealed on Monday, July 11, 2022, by NASA and President Joe Biden.  / Credit: NASA

The first color photo of the James Webb Telescope was revealed on Monday, July 11, 2022, by NASA and President Joe Biden. / Credit: NASA

The team will continue to measure this on other planets over the next decade, and the research could help provide insights into how planets form and how unique our own solar system is.

This week, NASA released more of the Webb Space Telescope’s findings. In July, Webb captured unprecedented views of Jupiter’s northern and southern lights, polar haze, its Great Red Spot and faint rings.

“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all amazing,” planetary astronomer Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley said in a statement. He helped lead the observation. “We really didn’t expect it to be this good, to be honest.”

And earlier this month, stunning images that were captured by Webb from a distant galaxy were released.

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