The wonderful exoplanet science that many astronomers have been waiting for has now been given by JWST, which has already produced incredible studies of close planets and distant galaxies. The first ever undeniable detection of carbon dioxide in an extraterrestrial atmosphere has been made by the satellite telescope.
The discovery was made in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-39 b, a well-known planet orbiting a Sun-like star 700 light-years away. It was detailed in a work approved for publication in Nature and made accessible on the preprint server ArXiv. We can see it because the world obscures some of the star’s light when it moves in front of it from our point of view.
JWST is made to analyze the light and identify any possible atmospheric obstructions to specific infrared wavelengths. One of its initial scientific objectives was WASP-96b, where it has previously found water vapor. Now, carbon dioxide (CO2) has also been found.
Professor Natalie Batalha of UC Santa Cruz headed the team that discovered the discovery. “Previous investigations of this planet with Hubble and Spitzer had given us intriguing signals that carbon dioxide could be present,” she said. The JWST data revealed an unmistakable carbon dioxide feature that was so pronounced it was almost shouting at us.
The massive carbon dioxide feature immediately caught Zafar Rustamkulov’s attention when the data first came on his screen, according to the team member. Crossing a crucial threshold in the study of exoplanets was a special event.
WASP-39 b is a hot gas giant that expands to the size of a planet due to its tight orbit to its star. Therefore, while having the same mass as Saturn, it is substantially larger, with a diameter that is 1.3 times that of Jupiter. It is extremely hot, with a temperature of about 900°C (1,300°F), due to its proximity to the star, which is about one-eighth of the distance between the Sun and Mercury. In our Solar System, this world is unique.
Although lighter elements like hydrogen and helium make up the majority of stars and gas giants, heavier elements are essential for planet formation. Both the rocky planets like Mars and Venus and the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter have significant amounts of CO2 in their atmospheres. Another excellent indicator of the presence of heavier elements in the atmospheres of the gas giants is CO2.
We’ll be able to use this carbon dioxide measuring stick for a whole bunch of exoplanets to build up a comprehensive understanding of giant planet composition, according to co-author Jonathan Fortney, professor at UC Santa Cruz and director of the Other Worlds Laboratory. “The ability to determine the amount of heavy elements in a planet is critical to understanding how it formed,” he said.
JWST’s exploration of exoplanets, including both gas giants and Earth-like planets, is just getting started.
According to team member Peter Gao from the Carnegie Institution for Science, “as we have identified thousands of exoplanets over the past two and a half decades, we’ve realized that most other planetary systems are significantly different from our own.”
Our understanding of how exoplanet atmospheres are affected by their host star’s composition and planetary system’s evolution will considerably progress thanks to JWST, which may help explain why our Solar System is so different.
You can participate in space history and the naming competition for some of the worlds that the JWST is currently studying.