Researchers announced last week that the James Webb Space Telescope had captured the first definitive evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.
“It is indisputable. It’s here. It’s definitely there,” said Peter Gao, study co-author and planetary scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Scientific news‘ Lisa Grosman. “There have been hints of carbon dioxide in previous sightings, but never confirmed to such an extent.”
The results have been published on the arXiv preprint server and have been accepted for publication in the journal Natureaccording to a press release.
The distant world, dubbed WASP-39b, is an exoplanet, meaning it’s outside our solar system – in this case, it’s 700 light-years away. It is a hot gas giant roughly the same mass as Saturn with a diameter about 1.3 times that of Jupiter, according to the release.
This finding could help scientists better understand how the exoplanet formed, writes Scienceit is Daniel Clery. And while WASP-39b isn’t likely to host extraterrestrial life, the discovery also shows that Webb could detect carbon dioxide in the atmospheres of smaller, rockier planets that are more Earth-like, which could help in search of life beyond our solar system, by Scientific news.
Webb “augurates this new era of atmospheric science of exoplanets,” said Nikku Madhusudhan, who studies exoplanets at the University of Cambridge in England and did not contribute to the new research. Science.
This exoplanet was first discovered in 2011, according to the New York Times‘ Denis Overbye. It orbits its sun at a distance one-eighth that between our sun and Mercury, so it’s too hot to support Earth-like life, according to the Time.
“This planet is not a hospitable place,” said Eliza Kempton, co-author of the new study and an exoplanetary astronomer at the University of Maryland. new scientistit is Lea Crane. “It’s like what you would get if you took Jupiter but moved it very close to the sun and baked it.”
The Webb Telescope, which launched late last year, has already made a slew of discoveries, from capturing stunning images of Jupiter to discovering the most distant galaxies ever seen. Last week, NASA also expressed interest in pointing the telescope at a newly discovered exoplanet 100 light-years away, which researchers believe may have an ocean of liquid water.
Webb began capturing data from WASP-39b in July. Water vapor, sodium and potassium had previously been detected in the planet’s atmosphere, according to Scienceand the Spitzer Space Telescope once observed a faint trace of carbon dioxide, according to Scientific news. But that was not enough to convince many scientists of the presence of this greenhouse gas. “I wouldn’t have bet more than a beer, at most a six-pack, on that weird interim carbon dioxide index from Spitzer,” said Nicolas Cowan, an astronomer at McGill University in Canada who n did not participate in the new search. Scientific news.
But Webb was able to capture stronger evidence. When WASP-39b passed in front of its star, the space telescope detected infrared starlight that had filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, for Science. Light with a wavelength of about 4.3 micrometers was absorbed more by the gases covering the exoplanet, which is a sign of the presence of carbon dioxide there, according to Scientific news. cowan tells Scientific news that Webb’s evidence “is rock solid”.
Scientists hope to use the space telescope to eventually study the atmospheres of Earth-like planets and learn more about the potential for life in other parts of the universe, for example. new scientist. In the future, detecting carbon dioxide in combination with other gases like methane could be a strong indicator that a planet is home to life, Jessie Christiansen, an astrophysicist at the Exoplanet Science Institute in Washington, told the publication. NASA who did not participate in the research.
“This is the first step towards characterizing the atmospheres of habitable planets,” Kempton said. new scientist.