The Webb telescope has detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

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The Webb telescope has detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

For the very first time, a telescope was able to detect the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. This telescope is the space telescope James Webband this exploit corresponds to a major breakthrough in the field of astronomy.

According to the information, the Webb telescope detected the gas during its first exoplanet observation campaign. The observations were aimed a gas giant named WASP-39b which is located in the constellation of Virgo, at a distance of 700 light years from Earth. WASP-39b has a mass equivalent to that of Saturn but is larger than Jupiter.

Representation of WASP-39b
Credits NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

The exoplanet WASP-39b had already been observed by the Hubble telescope previously in the optical wavelength range, and also by Spitzer telescope in the infrared range. Previous observations revealed the presence of water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere. However, it took until the Webb telescope to detect carbon dioxide.

The interest of this discovery

So far, carbon dioxide has never been detected on a planet outside the Solar System. Scientists hope that the gas will be able to help them better understand the history of the formation and evolution of the planets where it can be found.

According to Laura Kreidberg, director of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, and co-author of the study, “This unequivocal detection of carbon dioxide is a major step for the characterization of the atmosphere of exoplanets”. She added that CO2 measures the entire carbon and oxygen inventory of the atmosphere, the latter of which is very sensitive to the conditions of the disk where the planet formed.

Such measures allow to identify the distance between the star and the planet during formation of the latter. They can also indicate the amounts of solid and gaseous material that the planet has accumulated as it migrated to its current position.

Webb will bring change

The measurements that revealed the carbon dioxide were made on July 10. The Webb Telescope used its instrument NIRSpec to collect the data. It should be noted that no telescope, even Webb, can directly capture images of an exoplanet or its atmosphere. To study these planets outside the Solar System, scientists compare the typical light emitted by the star and that which crosses the atmosphere of a planet placed between the star and the telescope.

With this discovery, astronomers believe that the Webb telescope will be able to detect carbon dioxide in the atmospheres of other types of planets. This includes rocky planets like Earth, scattered across the galaxy.

For astronomers, the future looks particularly exciting thanks to the unparalleled capabilities of the James Webb telescope.


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