NASA’shas become known for capturing stunning images of space, but the telescope recently made a different kind of discovery — the first definite detection of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.
The CO2 — the compound humans exhale — was found in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star 700 light-years away, NASA said.
The hot gas giant planet was discovered in 2011 and given the name WASP-39 b. Its mass is about a quarter that of Jupiter and about the same as Saturn. However, its diameter is 1.3 times larger than that of Jupiter.
The finding shows that in the future, the Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in the thinner atmospheres of smaller rocky planets.
NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer have detected water vapour, sodium and potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b.
“Detecting such a strong carbon dioxide signal on WASP-39 b bodes well for detecting atmospheres on smaller, Earth-sized planets,” said Natalie Batalha of the University of California, Santa Cruz in a statement. Batalha led the research team that used Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph for his observations of WASP-39 b.
“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the massive carbon dioxide feature grabbed me,” said Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team. “It was a special moment to cross an important threshold in exoplanet science.”
The composition of a planet’s atmosphere can tell us something about the planet’s origin and evolution, NASA says.
“Carbon dioxide molecules are delicate trace elements in the history of planet formation,” said Mike Line of Arizona State University, another member of the research team. “By measuring this carbon dioxide feature, we can determine how much solid versus how much gaseous material went into forming this gas giant planet.
The team will continue to measure this on other planets over the coming decade, and the research may help provide insights into planet formation and the uniqueness of our own solar system.
This week NASAthe results of the Webb Space Telescope. In July, Webb captured unprecedented views of Jupiter’s northern and southern lights, swirling polar haze, its Great Red Spot, and faint rings.
“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this before. It’s all pretty incredible,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement. He helped direct the observation. “We honestly didn’t expect it to be this good.”
And earlier this monthcaptured by Webb from a galaxy far away have been released.
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