NASA’s Webb Spots Carbon Dioxide In Alien Atmospheres – Spotted That?


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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has obtained the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system. Observing a gas giant orbiting a Sun-like star 700 light-years away provides important insights into the planet’s composition and formation. The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Nature, provides evidence that in the future Webb may be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in the thinner atmospheres of smaller rocky planets.

WASP-39 b is a hot gas giant approximately one-quarter the mass of Jupiter (equivalent to Saturn) and 1.3 times larger in diameter than Jupiter. Its extreme puffiness is partly related to its high temperature (about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit or 900 degrees Celsius). Unlike the cooler, more compact gas giants in our solar system, WASP-39 b orbits very close to its star – only about one-eighth of the distance between the Sun and Mercury – complete a circuit in just over four Earth days. The planet’s discovery, reported in 2011, was made based on terrestrial findings of periodic dimming of light from its host star. transitor pass in front of the star.

Previous observations from other telescopes, including those of NASA Hubble and Spitzer space telescope, revealing the presence of water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. Webb’s unparalleled infrared sensitivity has now confirmed the presence of carbon dioxide on the planet.

Graph of the relative brightness of 3 different wavelengths of light over time.  The top graph forms a U-shaped valley showing a period of luminosity.  The valley bottom shows different degrees of opacity for 3 different wavelengths.

A series of light curves from Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) show changes in the brightness of three different wavelengths (colors) of light from the WASP-39 star system over time as the planet This will pass the star on July 10, 2022.

Credit: Illustrations: NASA, ESA, CSA and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: JWST . Alien Community Early Release Science Group

Filtered starlight

Transitioning planets like WASP-39 b, whose orbits we observe from the outside rather than from above, could provide researchers with ideal opportunities to probe planetary atmospheres. .

During the transit, some of the star’s light was completely obscured by the planet (causing total dimming) and some of the light passed through the planet’s atmosphere.

Because different gases absorb different combinations of colors, researchers can analyze small differences in the brightness of light traveling through the wavelength spectrum to determine exactly what atmosphere is created. what word. With a combination of inflated atmosphere and frequent travel, the WASP-39 b is an ideal target for transmittance spectrum.

For the first time, carbon dioxide has been clearly detected

The team used Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrophotometer (NIRSpec) for its observations of WASP-39b. In the resulting spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere, a small hill of 4.1 to 4.6 microns presents the first clear, detailed evidence of carbon dioxide ever detected on an outer planet. solar system.

“As soon as the data appeared on my screen,” said Zafar Rustamkulov, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the JWST Community Early Release Science team that conducted the investigation. , the giant carbon dioxide feature grabbed me. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science.”

No observatory has previously measured subtle differences in the brightness of many individual colors in the 3 to 5.5 micron range in the alien planet’s transmission spectrum before. Approaching this part of the spectrum is important for measuring abundant gases such as water and methane, as well as carbon dioxide, which is believed to exist in many Different types of the outer planets.

“The detection of such a clear carbon dioxide signal on WASP-39 bodes well for detecting atmospheres on planets with high concentrations of carbon dioxide,” said Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who led the team. smaller size on the ground.

Understanding the composition of a planet’s atmosphere is important because it tells us something about the planet’s origins and how it evolved. Mike Line of Arizona State University, another member of the research team, said: “The carbon dioxide molecules are a sensitive trace of the planet formation story. “By measuring this carbon dioxide property, we were able to determine how much solid versus gaseous matter was used to form this gas giant. Over the next decade, JWST will make this measurement for a variety of planets, providing detailed insight into how planets form and the uniqueness of our solar system. “

Histogram of the amount of light blocked versus wavelength of light with data points and models, showing a prominent, broad peak labeled

The transmission spectrum of the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-39 b, captured by Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) on July 10, 2022, shows the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in an extrasolar planet. This is also the first detailed alien planet transmission spectrum ever captured with wavelengths between 3 and 5.5 microns.

Credit: Illustrations: NASA, ESA, CSA and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: JWST . Alien Community Early Release Science Group

Science released soon

This NIRSpec prism view of WASP-39 b is only part of a larger observation investigation includes observations of the planet using multiple Webb instruments, as well as observations of two other transiting planets. The investigation, as part of Science released soon designed to provide the exoplanet research community with powerful Webb data as soon as possible.

Vivien Parmentier, co-investigator from the University of Oxford, explains: “The goal is to analyze Early Release Science observations quickly and develop open source tools for use by the scientific community. “This allows for contributions from around the world and ensures that the best possible science emerges from the decades of observations to come.”

Natasha Batalha, co-author of the paper from NASA’s Ames Research Center, added that “NASA’s open science guiding principles are at the heart of our Early Release Science work, supporting support a collaborative, transparent and inclusive scientific process”.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s leading space science observatory. Webb will solve the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of the universe and its location. ours in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with partners the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Banner image: This illustration shows what exoplanet WASP-39 b might look like, based on current understanding of the planet. WASP-39 b is a hot, bulging gas giant with a mass 0.28 Jupiter (0.94 times Saturn) and 1.3 times Jupiter in diameter, orbiting just 0. 0486 astronomical units (4,500,000 miles) from its star. The star, WASP-39, is partially smaller and less massive than the Sun. Because it is so close to its star, WASP-39 b is very hot and likely locked in order, with one side always facing the star. Illustrations suppliers: NASA, ESA, CSA and J. Olmsted (STScI)

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