NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope first detected carbon dioxide on an alien world.
A team of more than 30 scientists who analyzed the spectrum of the gas giant exoplanet Wasp 39b reported that they found a clear signal of an abundance of carbon dioxide in the planets’ atmosphere. Previous studies by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes had detected water vapor, potassium and sodium in the exoplanet’s atmosphere, but this is the first time that carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas and, at least on Earth, a product of animal metabolism – it was found clearly identified on a distant world.
The new findings were accepted for publication in the journal Nature and are currently available on the Arxiv online academic server.
The result is one of the first findings from Webb’s early observations and suggests that the new space telescope could also help separate the atmospheric components of smaller, rocky, Earth-like exoplanets during its operational life. Accurate detection of gas concentrations in the atmospheres of such planets could help scientists detect signs of alien life, if any.
The Wasp 39b Specter was one of the first five Webb images that were released to the public on July 12, although it is not a photograph in the usual sense of the term. Webb uses his infrared spectrometer instrument to measure starlight passing through the atmosphere of distant planets such as Wasp 39b, and as different elements and molecules absorb light at different wavelengths, the resulting pattern of dips and peaks reveals what chemicals are present in the intermediate atmosphere.
“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the huge carbon dioxide function captured me,” Johns Hopkins University graduate student Zafar Rustamkulov and a member of the Webb Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team said in a statement. moment, crossing an important threshold in the sciences of the exoplanets.
Wasp 39b is a gas giant planet orbiting a sun-like star about 700 light-years from Earth. It is roughly as massive as Saturn, but 1.3 times larger than Jupiter, a “swelling” due to the extreme temperature of Wasp 39b; measures approximately 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, orbiting its star at a distance closer than the planet Mercury to our sun.
Accurate measurements of carbon dioxide can help scientists better understand the evolution of exoplanets like Wasp 39b, such as the amount of solid versus gaseous material involved in its formation.
But the measurement also suggests the ability of Webb telescopes to decipher the atmospheres of smaller, more Earth-like rocky planets. Planets where life as we know could flourish, leaving telltale signs of its presence in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.