NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope detects carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a distant world for the first time

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope detects carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a distant world for the first time

An illustration of WASP-39 b, an exoplanet with an atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide.

An illustration of WASP-39 b, an exoplanet with an atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide.NASA, ESA, CSA and J. Olmsted (STScI)

Astronomers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have detected conclusive evidence of carbon dioxide on a world beyond our solar system.

The planet, called WASP-39 b, is a gas giant orbiting a Sun-like star about 700 light-years away, where temperatures are consistently around 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, or 900 degrees Celsius. While the planet was first discovered in 2011, Webb’s sensitive infrared instruments allowed researchers to analyze it in detail, definitively detecting carbon dioxide for the first time.

To better understand exoplanets, or planets around other stars, researchers train their telescopes to measure the chemical composition of the exoplanet’s atmospheres. They do this by observing how starlight is filtered through the atmosphere, which dips into very specific wavelengths that correspond to different molecules.

Using Webb’s NIRSpec instrument, astronomers analyzed the gases and chemicals present in WASP-39 b’s atmosphere on July 10.

“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the huge carbon dioxide resource grabbed me,” Zafar Rustamkulov, a planetary scientist and member of the transiting exoplanets team, said in a press release. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science.”

The 'huge carbon dioxide resource' detected by Webb's near-infrared spectrograph as the world transited its host star.

Carbon dioxide detected by the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared spectrograph as the world transited its host star.NASA, ESA, CSA and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: The JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Launch Science Team

“Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide in WASP-39 b bodes well for detecting atmospheres on smaller Earth-sized planets,” Natalie Batalha, an astronomer leading the transiting exoplanets team, said in a press release. press.

While carbon dioxide is associated with life on Earth, astronomers typically look for the ingredients that sustain life — liquid water, a continuous source of energy, carbon and other elements — when looking for life on distant worlds.

When NASA revealed the first batch of Webb images on July 12, the agency included data showing the existence of water, along with evidence of clouds and haze, in the atmosphere of an exoplanet called WASP-96 b, which orbits a star similar to the sun. .

More discoveries are almost inevitable, as Webb’s capabilities allow unprecedented views of the atmospheres of distant planets.

“With the James Webb Space Telescope, we can explore the chemical composition of the atmosphere of other worlds — and if there are signs in it that we can only explain by life,” Lisa Kaltenegger, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, said previously to Insider.

“It’s an incredible moment in our exploration of the cosmos,” Kaltenegger said, adding, “Are we alone? This amazing space telescope is the first tool that gathers enough light for us to start figuring out this fundamental question.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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