“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive tracers of the planet formation story,” Mike Lane, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said in a press release. Line is a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team that conducted the investigation.
The team made carbon dioxide observations using the telescope’s near-infrared spectrometer, one of Webb’s four science instruments, to look at WASP-39b’s atmosphere. Their research is part of the Early Release Science Initiative, which aims to make data from the telescope available to the exoplanet research community as quickly as possible to guide further scientific research and discovery.
This latest discovery has been accepted for publication in the journal Nature.
“By measuring this carbon dioxide signature, we can determine how much solid versus how much gas was used to form the gas giant,” Line added. “Over the next decade, JWST will perform this measurement on a variety of planets, providing insight into the details of how planets form and the uniqueness of our own solar system.”
A new era in exoplanet research
In the captured spectrum of the planet’s atmosphere, the researchers saw a small hill between 4.1 and 4.6 microns — a “clear carbon dioxide signal,” says team leader, UC Santa Astronomy and Astrophysics Professor Natalie Batalha said. Cruz, in the release. (A micrometer 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 Earth look bigger.” Science. “We can analyze these tiny differences in planet size to reveal the chemical composition of the atmosphere.”
Obtaining this part of the spectrum — made possible by the Webb telescope — is critical for measuring the abundance of gases like methane and water, which are thought to be present in many exoplanets, as well as carbon dioxide, according to NASA . Because individual gases absorb different color combinations, researchers can examine “small differences in the brightness of transmitted light over a range of wavelengths to determine what the atmosphere is made of,” according to NASA.
Previously, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer telescopes found water vapor, sodium and potassium in Earth’s atmosphere. “Previous observations of the planet with Hubble and Spitzer gave us tantalizing hints that carbon dioxide might be present,” Batalha said. “The data from JWST shows a clear CO2 signature that stands out, almost yelling at us.”
“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the giant carbon dioxide signature grabbed me,” Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student in Johns Hopkins’ Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said in a news release. “This is a special moment that crosses an important threshold in exoplanet science,” he added.
Discovered in 2011, WASP-39b has about the same mass as Saturn, about a quarter the size of Jupiter, and 1.3 times the diameter of Jupiter. Because the exoplanet orbits so close to its star, it completes one lap in a little over four Earth days.