NASA: James Webb detects the first sample of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

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

Banner Image: This illustration shows what exoplanet WASP-39 b could look like, based on current understanding of the planet. WASP-39 b is a hot, puffy gas-giant planet with a mass 0.28 times Jupiter (0.94 times Saturn) and a diameter 1.3 times greater than Jupiter, orbiting just 0.0486 astronomical units (4,500,000 miles) from its star. The star, WASP-39, is fractionally smaller and less massive than the Sun. Because it is so close to its star, WASP-39 b is very hot and is likely to be tidally locked, with one side facing the star at all times. Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and J. Olmsted (STScI)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has just claimed an important new discovery by detecting the first clear sign of the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system. This finding provides data on the composition and formation of this celestial body, which is a gas giant exoplanet that orbits a star similar to the Sun 700 light years from Earth.

As detailed in the official statement on the agency’s website, the discovery occurred while observing WASP-39 b, the name chosen for the exoplanet in question and whose main characteristics are its composition of hot gas with a size equivalent to a quarter of the mass of Jupiter. NASA details that, unlike other cooler gaseous stars, it orbits very close to its star.

Previously, other space telescopes of the agency such as Spitzer and Hubble managed to capture the existence of water vapor, sodium and potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b, but James Webb is the first to document the presence of carbon dioxide due to its infrared sensitivity tool. “As soon as the data appeared on my screen, I was hooked by the huge carbon dioxide feature,” said Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who is part of the science team in charge.

One more achievement to the record of James Webb
According to what the report mentions, the team of researchers in charge used the James Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) to observe WASP-39 b. In the result obtained after pointing the instrument’s Imager at the planet for more than 6 hours, a small slope of between 4.1 and 4.6 microns was found in the atmosphere, which is the first clear and detailed evidence of carbon dioxide detected on a planet outside the solar system.

The scientific team that is part of the project explains that the device captures the star’s light that has been filtered by the planet’s atmosphere and then compares it with the values recorded when the star does not obstruct the emission.

“Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide in WASP-39 b bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, Earth-sized planets,” said Natalie Batalha, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz who leads the study. equipment.

This achievement is extremely important because no observatory has been able to measure this chemical compound in the atmosphere of a star outside our solar system. This is crucial for determining the abundance of key gases like water or methane that astronomers believe exist in these celestial bodies because atoms and molecules have characteristic patterns of the wavelengths they absorb.

“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive indicators of the history of planet formation. By measuring this characteristic of CO2, we can determine how much solid material compared to gaseous material was used to form this gas giant planet. In the next decade, James Webb will make this type of measurement for a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how they form and the uniqueness of our own solar system,” said Mike Line of Arizona State University, another member of the equipment.

WASP-39 b and its history with NASA
Previously, the exoplanet WASP-39 b had already surprised scientists from the space agency because the presence of water in its atmosphere was discovered. Thus, the observation captured by James Webb’s NIRSpec is only part of a much broader investigation that will include observations with other space telescope instruments.

The study was designed to bring robust data obtained by James Webb to the exoplanet research community as soon as possible. “The goal is to rapidly analyze early scientific observations and develop open source tools for use by the scientific community. This allows contributions from all over the world and ensures that the best possible scientific research will be obtained from the coming decades of observations,” said Vivien Parmentier, a co-investigator at the University of Oxford.