Home Science NASA’s James Webb Telescope takes the most detailed look yet at the atmosphere of an exoplanet

NASA’s James Webb Telescope takes the most detailed look yet at the atmosphere of an exoplanet

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NASA’s most powerful space telescope has identified the molecular and chemical profile of the exoplanet’s atmosphere. This is another demonstration of its ability to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The James Webb Telescope has amazed space observers since it launched earlier this year. Its powerful infrared capabilities have provided scientists with a previously invisible window into deep space.

One of the functions that infrared sensors provide is to reveal a “chemical fingerprint” of the distant world.

For the first time, NASA has revealed complete readings of atoms, molecules, signs of energetic chemical reactions and even clouds of a Saturn-sized planet orbiting a star 700 light-years away.

The scientists behind the discoveries say the findings bode well for future investigations into the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars, including rocky planets, which could be potential candidates to host life. say.

James Webb and other space telescopes have previously revealed isolated components of this scorching planet’s atmosphere.

But its latest measurements go much further in detail, and even provide an idea of ​​what clouds around the planet might look like. It is believed that they can fall apart.

“Hot Saturn”

Known as WASP-39 b, the planet, called “Hot Saturn,” is about the size of its solar system neighbor, but orbits closer to the Sun than Mercury.

Webb tracked WASP-39 b as it passed in front of the star, allowing some of the star’s light to pass through the planet’s atmosphere.

Different types of chemicals in the atmosphere absorb different colors in the star’s light spectrum, so the missing colors tell astronomers which molecules are present.

“We have observed exoplanets with multiple instruments. Together these instruments provide a broad infrared spectrum and a set of previously inaccessible chemical fingerprints. [this mission]said Natalie Batalha, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who contributed to and helped coordinate the new study.

“Data like this is a game changer”.

Findings include the first detection of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. This is a molecule produced from a chemical reaction caused by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star.

On Earth, the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is created in a similar way.

“This is the first time we have seen concrete evidence of photochemistry (chemical reactions initiated by high-energy stellar light) on an exoplanet,” said University of Oxford researcher Shang-Min Tsai. I’m here.

“I think this is a very promising prospect for improving our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres.”

This has led scientists to better model photochemical data. This will help build technical know-how for interpreting potential signs of habitability on exoplanets in the future, they say.

“Planets are sculpted and transformed by orbiting within the radiation baths of their host stars,” Batalha said. “On Earth, these changes allow life to thrive.”

These findings are detailed in a series of five new scientific papers, three of which have been published and two are under peer review.

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