“CO2 molecules are sensitive snippets of the planet formation story,” Mike Lane, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, said in the press release. Lane is a member of JWST’s Early Release Science Team of Transiting Exoplanets, which conducted the investigation.
The team detected carbon dioxide using the telescope’s near-infrared spectrometer – one of Webb’s four science instruments – to observe the atmosphere of WASP-39b. Their research is part of the Early Science Publishing Program, an initiative designed to provide data from the telescope to the exoplanet research community as soon as possible, guiding further scientific study and discovery.
This latest discovery has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature.
“By measuring this carbon dioxide feature, we can determine the amount of solid versus the amount of gaseous material used to form this giant gaseous planet,” Lane added. “In the next decade, JWST will perform this measurement of a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how planets formed and the uniqueness of our solar system.”
A new era in exoplanet research
Team leader Natalie Batalha, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, said in the release. (A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter).
said team member Monaza Alam, a postdoctoral fellow in the Earth and Planetary Laboratory at the Carnegie Endowment for Science. “We can analyze these tiny differences in planet size to reveal the chemical composition of the atmosphere.”
Reaching this part of the light spectrum — which the Webb telescope makes possible — is essential to measuring the abundance of gases like methane and water, as well as carbon dioxide, which is thought to be present on many exoplanets, according to NASA. Because individual gases absorb different combinations of colors, researchers can examine “small differences in the brightness of light transmitted across a spectrum of wavelengths to determine exactly what the atmosphere is made of,” according to NASA.
Previously, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes have detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of this planet with Hubble and Spitzer have given us tantalizing hints that carbon dioxide may be present,” Batalha said. “Data from JWST showed a clear and unmistakable advantage of CO2 that was so prominent that it practically screamed at us.”
“As soon as the data came to my screen, it took away the massive CO2 advantage,” team member Zafar Rostamkulov, a graduate student in Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in a news release. Release. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.
Discovered in 2011, WASP-39b is roughly the same mass as Saturn and about a quarter of Jupiter’s mass, while its diameter is 1.3 times that of Jupiter. Since the exoplanet orbits close to its star, it completes one circle in just over four Earth days.
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