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Webb reveals an exoplanet atmosphere as never seen before

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science and exploration

2022/11/24
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NASA/ESA/CSA’s James Webb Space Telescope has set a new record for molecular and chemical depictions of the skies of distant worlds. Webb and other space telescopes, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, have previously revealed isolated components of this heated planet’s atmosphere, but the new measurements reveal atoms, molecules and even energetic chemistry. We offer a complete menu of signs of matter and clouds. The latest data also give us a hint of what these clouds might look like up close. That is, they are scattered rather than as a single uniform blanket covering the earth.

The telescope’s array of sensitive instruments is trained in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b, a “hot Saturn” (a planet roughly the size of Saturn but with a narrower orbit than Mercury) orbiting a star about 700 light-years away. it was done. This Saturn-sized exoplanet first examined When the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope began regular science operations. The results excited the exoplanet science community. Webb’s highly sensitive instruments provided a profile of WASP-39 b’s atmospheric composition, identifying its bulk contents including water, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium, and potassium.

The discovery portends Webb’s instrument’s ability to conduct the wide-ranging survey of exoplanets (planets around other stars) that the scientific community wants. This includes investigating the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets, such as those in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

Natalie Batalha, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who contributed to and assisted with the coordination, said: new research. “Data like this is a game changer.”

WASP-39 b Atmospheric composition (NIRSpec, NIRCam, NIRISS)

The series of discoveries is detailed in a series of five new scientific papers, three of which are in press and two under review. Among the unprecedented discoveries was the first detection of sulfur dioxide, a molecule produced from chemical reactions triggered by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star, in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. On Earth, the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is created in a similar way.

Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford, UK and lead author of the paper, said, “We saw concrete evidence of photochemistry (chemical reactions initiated by high-energy starlight) on exoplanets. This is the first time,” he said. Origin of atmospheric sulfur dioxide in WASP-39 b. “I think this is a very promising prospect for improving our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres. [this mission]”

This led to another first. Scientists must apply computer models of photochemistry to the data to fully account for such physics. The resulting modeling improvements help build the technical know-how necessary to interpret potential signs of future habitability.

WASP-39 b Atmospheric composition (NIRSpec G395H)

“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.”
The planet’s proximity to its host star (8 times closer than Mercury’s to the Sun) also provides a laboratory for studying the effects of host star radiation on exoplanets. As our knowledge of stellar-planetary connections improves, our understanding of how these processes affect the observed planetary diversity in galaxies should improve.

Other atmospheric constituents detected by the Webb telescope include sodium (Na), potassium (K) and water vapor (HO), confirming previous space- and ground-based telescope observations as well as suggesting these Additional fingerprints of water can also be found at longer wavelengths of . Never seen before.

Webb also made higher-resolution observations of carbon dioxide (CO2), providing twice the data reported from previous observations. On the other hand, carbon monoxide (CO) was detected, but no obvious traces of both methane (CH4) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) were present in the Webb data. If present, these molecules occur at very low levels.

To capture this broad spectrum of WASP-39 b’s atmosphere, hundreds of international teams independently analyzed data from four finely tuned instrument modes of the Webb telescope.

WASP-39 b Atmospheric Composition (NIRSpec PRISM)

“What did we expect [the telescope] Hannah Wakeford, an astrophysicist at the University of Bristol, UK, who studies exoplanet atmospheres, said:

Having such a complete list of chemical constituents in an exoplanet’s atmosphere would give scientists a glimpse into the abundance of various interrelated elements, such as the carbon-to-oxygen or potassium-to-oxygen ratios. increase. It, in turn, provides insight into how this planet, and possibly other planets, formed from the disk of gas and dust surrounding the parent star when it was young.

WASP-39 b’s chemical inventory suggests a history of shattering and coalescence of small celestial bodies called planetesimals to ultimately create the planet Goliath.

“Abundant sulfur [relative to] Hydrogen indicated that the planet likely experienced significant accretion of transportable planetesimals [these ingredients] Kazumasa Ohno, an exoplanet researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who worked on Webb’s data, said: “The data also show that oxygen is much more abundant than atmospheric carbon. This could indicate that WASP-39 b originally formed far from its central star. There is a nature.

By revealing the precise details of exoplanet atmospheres, the Webb telescope’s instrument far exceeds scientists’ expectations and promises a new phase in the exploration of various exoplanets in our galaxy. .

“We’ll be able to see the full picture of the exoplanet’s atmosphere,” said Laura Flagg, a Cornell University researcher and member of the international team. It’s one of the best parts of being a scientist.”

For more information

Webb is the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space. Under an international cooperation agreement, ESA provided telescope launch services using Ariane 5 rockets. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of the Ariane 5 adaptation for the Webb mission, as well as the procurement of launch services by Arianespace. ESA also provided the flagship spectrograph NIRSpec and his 50% of the central infrared instrument MIRI. MIRI was designed and built by a state-funded consortium of European laboratories (MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona. Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

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