What happened now? The James Webb Space Telescope has detected the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet 700 light-years from Earth. This discovery marks the first detection of carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system.
WASP-39 b is a gas giant with a mass about a quarter that of Jupiter and a diameter 1.3 times that of Jupiter. It’s fried, too, at about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, partly because it orbits very close to its star—about one-eighth the distance between Mercury and the Sun, or about 4.5 million miles away.
Previous Observations NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have confirmed the presence of sodium, potassium, and water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere. The Webb Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument was used to observe WASP-39b. passed in front of your star.
When a planet passes in front of a star, some of the light from the star passes through its atmosphere. Different gases absorb different combinations of colors, and analyzing these changes in the wavelength spectrum allows researchers to pinpoint exactly what a planet’s atmosphere is made of.
“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, I was taken by the colossal function of carbon dioxide,” said Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science group. “It was a special moment when we crossed an important threshold in exoplanet sciences.”
WASP-39 b orbits its star in just over four Earth days. These frequent transits make him an ideal candidate for transmission spectroscopy.
Natalie Bataglia of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who leads the team, said the detection of such a clear carbon dioxide signal on WASP-39 b bodes well for detecting atmospheres on smaller planets.
Such data will help researchers better understand the origin of the planet and how it evolved. Mike Line of Arizona State University, another member of the research team, said that by measuring carbon dioxide specifically, they can determine the ratio of solid to gaseous material that was used to form the planet.