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Seen Outside This Solar System

There is another planet that orbits a star, like the Sun, 700 light-years away from the Earth. The James Webb Space Telescope of NASA recently discovered Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere of that planet. In its latest report, the independent agency of the US Federal Government, responsible for the civil space programme, aeronautics and space research, has mentioned that it is the first clear evidence of the existence of Carbon Dioxide on a planet outside our own solar system. The Nature magazine would soon publish this report.

This illustration shows what exoplanet WASP-39 b could look like, based on current understanding of the planet

NASA has also mentioned in its report that the exoplanet has been named WASP-39 b. With the help of the telescope, researchers have found that it is basically a hot giant gaseous mass, a quarter of the mass of Jupiter. However, the diameter of WASP-39 b is 1.3 times that of Jupiter. The hollow appearance of this exoplanet is due to its extreme heat, around 900 degrees Celsius. Hence, the entire exoplanet is in a gaseous state. Density of the planets of our own solar system is high, as they are much cooler. According to NASA, WASP-39 b is very close to its star, as the distance between them is one-eighth of that of the Sun and its nearest planet, Mercury. The exoplanet completes its orbit around its star in four Earth days. WASP-39 b was first identified in 2011. Since then, much has been known about this exoplanet with the help of Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. However, Carbon Dioxide has been found in a rare first.

Scientists are excited about two things as far as the new success of the James Webb telescope is concerned. Firstly, this extrasolar exoplanet is a gaseous mass, as it is still in the making. A constant monitoring of this exoplanet shall help scientists understand how a planet is formed. Secondly, James Webb has successfully identified the existence of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere of such a distant planet. In the future, it may be possible to understand the existence of gaseous substances in the atmosphere of a tiny planet. The amount of specific gas may also be measured.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

NASA’s James Webb is the world’s most advanced telescope to date, as it is more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Telescope. A team of researchers has identified Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b with its Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec). In fact, while orbiting a star, some of the planet’s light is reflected back through its atmosphere. As different gases can absorb different colour combinations, scientists can understand gaseous substances that may exist in that particular atmosphere by analysing the brightness of colours from the reflected light. In this manner, NASA has detected the presence of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b.

Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who is associated with this research, stressed: “As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the whopping Carbon Dioxide feature grabbed me. It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet sciences.” For her part, Natalie Batalha of the University of California who leads the team, stated: “Detecting such a clear signal of Carbon Dioxide on WASP-39 b bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets.

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