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NASA’s Webb Detects Carbon Dioxide in an giant exoplanet’s atmosphere

The James Webb Space Telescope has measured carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of gas giant planet WASP-39 b. The planet orbits a “Sun-like star 700 light-years away,” according to ESA.

The atmosphere of a planet outside of our solar system has the first conclusive evidence of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, according to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This observation of a gas giant planet 700 light-years from Earth circling a Sun-like star sheds light on the planet’s composition and development. The discovery, which has been approved for publication in Nature, provides proof that Webb could one day be able to identify and analyze carbon dioxide in the thinner atmospheres of smaller rocky planets.

With a diameter 1.3 times larger than Jupiter and a mass around one-quarter that of Jupiter, WASP-39 b is a hot gas giant. Its high temperature contributes to some of its excessive puffiness (about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit or 900 degrees Celsius). WASP-39 b circles its star very closely, only approximately one-eighth the distance between the Sun and Mercury, and completes one round in little over four Earth days, in contrast to the colder, more compact gas giants in our solar system. A planet transits its host star, or passes in front of it, causing a modest, periodic dimming of the star’s brightness that led to the planet’s discovery, which was announced in 2011.

The planet’s atmosphere contains water vapor, sodium, and potassium, according to earlier studies from telescopes like NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer satellite telescopes. Carbon dioxide has now been verified to exist on this planet because to Webb’s unrivaled infrared sensitivity.

Filtered Starlight

Researchers may take advantage of transiting planets like WASP-39 b, whose orbits we witness edge-on rather than from above, to study planetary atmospheres.

Some of the starlight is partially covered by the planet during a transit (resulting in the overall darkening), and some is transmitted through the atmosphere of the planet.

A series of light curves from Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) shows the change in brightness of three different wavelengths (colors) of light from the WASP-39 star system over time as the planet transited the star July 10, 2022.
Credits: Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: The JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team

Researchers can identify the precise composition of an atmosphere by analyzing minute variations in brightness of the transmitted light over a variety of wavelengths because various gases absorb distinct combinations of colors. WASP-39 b is a good target for transmission spectroscopy because of its inflated atmosphere and regular transits.

First Clear Detection of Carbon Dioxide

For their observations of WASP-39b, the study team employed Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec). The first definitive, in-depth proof of carbon dioxide ever found on an extrasolar planet is shown by a little hill between 4.1 and 4.6 microns in the resultant spectrum of the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

Zafar Rustamkulov, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team, which carried out this analysis, remarked, “As soon as the data arrived on my screen, the enormous carbon dioxide feature grabbed me.” Crossing a crucial milestone in the study of exoplanets was a remarkable event.

No observatory has previously recorded such minute variations in brightness of so many different colors in an exoplanet transmission spectrum between the wavelengths of 3 and 5.5 microns. For determining the abundances of gases like water and methane as well as carbon dioxide, which are believed to exist in a variety of exoplanet types, access to this section of the spectrum is essential.

Leading the research is Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz. “Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide on WASP-39 b bodes well for the identification of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets,” she stated.

It is crucial to comprehend a planet’s atmosphere because it contains information about the planet’s formation and evolution. According to Mike Line of Arizona State University, another part of the study team, “Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive tracers of the tale of planet formation.” We can tell how much solid and how much gaseous material was utilized to construct this gas giant planet by studying this carbon dioxide characteristic. JWST will do this measurement for a number of planets over the next ten years, shedding light on the specifics of planet formation and the peculiarities of our own solar system.

A transmission spectrum of the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-39 b captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) July 10, 2022, reveals the first clear evidence for carbon dioxide in a planet outside the solar system. This is also the first detailed exoplanet transmission spectrum ever captured that covers wavelengths between 3 and 5.5 microns.
Credits: Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: The JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team

Early Release Science

This NIRSpec prism observation of WASP-39 b is only a small portion of a broader inquiry that also includes observations of two additional transiting planets and studies of the planet utilizing other Webb equipment. The inquiry, which is a component of the Early Release Science initiative, was created with the goal of giving the Webb data to the exoplanet research community as soon as feasible.

According to co-investigator Vivien Parmentier from Oxford University, “the objective is to assess the Early Release Research findings fast and build open-source tools for the science community to utilize.” This allows for contributions from all across the world and guarantees that the upcoming decades of observations will provide the greatest research possible.

“NASA’s open science guiding principles are anchored in our Early Release Science effort, promoting an inclusive, transparent, and collaborative scientific approach,” says Natasha Batalha, a co-author on the research from NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The best space scientific observatory in the world is the James Webb Space Telescope. In addition to looking beyond our solar system to distant planets orbiting other stars, Webb will delve into the enigmatic architecture and origins of the cosmos and our role within it. An multinational project called Webb is run by NASA in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

Source: NASA GOV

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