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The most detailed exoplanet atmospheric composition was obtained from James Webb's data

The most detailed exoplanet atmospheric composition was obtained from James Webb’s data

In August, NASA and the European Space Agency reported that James Webb had succeeded to find For the first time, definitive evidence of the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system. It was WASP-39b, a gas giant orbiting a sun-like star 700 light-years away.

After a thorough analysis of the data collected by Webb, researchers have now been able to extract a wealth of information aboutatmospheres This planet outside the solar system. It contains detailed infrared spectra acquired with three of the telescope’s four instruments Information about atmospheric chemistry Unprecedented accuracy. This allowed conclusions about cover of clouds of the planet and include the first signs of photochemistry in exoplanet atmospheres.

The data on the chemical composition is so accurate that it constitutes a true, almost complete, chemical inventory. This allowed the experts to advance Hypotheses about planet formation. The results have been published in five different journal articles natures It also shows the development of new methods that would allow astronomers to detect life on Earth distant planetsalthough this would be the work of one of James Webb’s successors.

Dense and cloudy weather

Observations of WASP-39b based on the studies are part of the Transiting Exoplanet Society Early Release Science Program. The alleged transits of outer planets were primary: a Crossing This happens when a planet orbiting a distant star passes between us and that star from the point of view of observers on Earth. What can be seen, then, are differences in the brightness of the star itself.

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Astronomers used the Space Telescope to observe four different transits in mid-to-late July 2022, using three of the space telescope’s four scientific instruments. yoke camera (near infrared camera) e Neris (Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph) One transit was captured each, and the other two transits were observed instead with two different operating modes NIRS specs (near infrared spectrometer).

From the brightness differences during transit, the researchers found that WASP-39b containsRelatively dense atmosphere. It will feature a fragmented set of Zipper, not only from water but also from substances such as sulfides and silicates. Clouds and their components are distributed unevenly, rather than in a single uniform covering covering the surface of the planet. Among the many molecules present, an initially obscure spectral feature in the spectrum turns out to representsulfur dioxide: The first discovery of its kind in the atmosphere of a planet outside the solar system.

A chain reaction triggered by starlight that converts hydrogen sulfide into sulfur dioxide. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here’s what Webb can tell us about exoplanets

And it didn’t end there. Some of the information contained in the spectra allowed conclusions to be drawn about Planet formation history. The ratios of carbon to oxygen, potassium, oxygen, sulfur, and hydrogen indicate a formation history in which smaller precursor bodies (“minor planets”) collided with each other and coalesced to form the present, rather large, planet.

The ratio of carbon to oxygen, especially when oxygen is more abundant than carbon, indicates that WASP-39b is at the start Much more than its star formed compared to its current narrower orbit.

This kind of research will be essential to succeed in one of the astronomical community’s most ambitious undertakings: Detecting potential impacts on life on the outer planets. To do this, detailed observations by various space telescopes are needed, which will then be used to extract data on the atmosphere’s atmosphere.exoplanet. Comparison with atmospheric models will eventually show that a certain set of characteristics, such as increased oxygen in the atmosphere, can be an indication that certain types of organisms (current or past) may have been present on that planet.

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