Astrophysicists on Earth no strangers to WASP-39b, an exoplanet orbiting a star 700 light-years from Earth, though they had never seen it directly before. Now, the Webb Space Telescope has provided a new glimpse into this distant world: Its observations have revealed a list of recipes for the planet’s toxic atmosphere.
WASP-39b is a gas giant the size of Saturn and the size of Jupiter, but it orbits its star at about the same distance as Mercury from the Sun, which makes the outer planet very hot. It was an exoplanet Discovered in 2011; Earlier this year, observations from the Webb telescope a statement Carbon dioxide lurks in its atmosphere.
More molecules and chemical compounds have now been identified, including evidence of water, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium. Results are reviewed for publication and Available now On the arXiv prepress server.
“This is the first time we’ve seen concrete evidence of photochemistry – chemical reactions initiated by active starlight – on exoplanets,” said Oxford University researcher Shang-Min Tsai, lead author of the article explaining the presence of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. from the planet, in Press release from the European Space Agency. “I see this as a really promising possibility to advance our understanding of the outer atmospheres of exoplanets [this mission]. “
Smelling the chemicals floating in the atmosphere of a faraway world is no small feat. The nearest confirmed exoplanet is 24.9 trillion kilometers away. However, Webb was able to detect these ultrafine particles in WASP-39b.
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Webb observed the planet while waiting for it to cross in front of its host star; When he did, starlight illuminated the planet from behind. Webb captured infrared wavelengths of this light, and scientists can infer which chemicals are in the atmosphere based on the wavelengths of light they absorbed.
Webb’s capabilities have broader implications for understanding the diversity of exoplanets in our galaxy, taking into account their possible habitability. Given its extreme heat and gaseous composition, WASP-39b is certainly not hospitable to any life we know of, but it does showcase the kind of molecular analysis Webb could apply to distant worlds.
“I can’t wait to see what we find in the atmospheres of small terrestrial planets,” said Mercedes Lopez-Morales, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics. Harvard & Smithsonian and co-author of recent work, in an ESA edition.
data provided to researchers That chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere may have dissolved into clouds, rather than being evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere. Based on the relative abundance of the chemicals in the atmosphere, the researchers believe that WASP-39b emerged from a cluster of minor planets over time.
Although we don’t know where the WEB will launch its IR Then look, we know that, At some point, more Exoplanets will be on the program. Webb has already studied the atmospheres of rocky planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system and may return to the system in time. You can keep track of Webb’s latest goals over here.
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