“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive tracers of the story of planet formation,” Mike Lain, associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said in a news release. Line is a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team, which conducted the investigation.
To monitor WASP-39b’s atmosphere, the team made carbon dioxide observations with the telescope’s near-infrared spectrograph, one of Webb’s four science instruments. Their research is part of the Early Launch Science Program, which is designed to quickly provide data from the telescope to the exoplanet research community, and guide scientific exploration and discovery.
This latest discovery has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature.
“By measuring this carbon dioxide feature, we can determine how much solid and how much gaseous material was used to form this gas giant planet,” Lain added. “Over the coming decade, JWST will make this measurement for a variety of planets, providing insight into how planets form and the peculiarities of our own solar system.”
A new era in exoplanet research
In the captured spectrum of the planet’s atmosphere, the researchers found a small peak between 4.1 and 4.6 microns — a “clear signal of carbon dioxide,” said team leader Natalie Batalha, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Fe. Cruz, in publication. (A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter.)
“Depending on the composition, thickness and cloudiness of the atmosphere, it absorbs some colors of light more than others — making the planet appear larger,” team member Munasa Alam told Science. “We can analyze these small differences in planet size to reveal the chemical makeup of the atmosphere.”
Access to this part of the light spectrum — which the Webb telescope makes possible — is key to measuring abundant gases like methane and water, as well as carbon dioxide, according to NASA. Because individual gases absorb a mixture of different colors, researchers can “examine small differences in the brightness of transmitted light across the spectrum of wavelengths, determining precisely what the atmosphere is made of,” according to NASA.
Earlier, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of the planet with Hubble and Spitzer gave us tantalizing hints that carbon dioxide might be present,” Batalha said. “The JWST data showed a clear carbon dioxide feature that practically screamed at us.”
Morton K. of Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the carbon dioxide feature caught my eye,” Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student in Bluestein’s department, said in a news release. liberation “This is a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.
Discovered in 2011, WASP-39b has a mass of Saturn and roughly one-fourth that of Jupiter, while its diameter is 1.3 times that of Jupiter. Because the exoplanet orbits so close to its star, it completes one revolution in as little as four Earth days.
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