Astrophysicists are on Earth not strangers to VESPA-39b, an exoplanet star about 700 light years from Earth that they have never actually seen directly. Now, the Webb Space Telescope has offered a new insight into this remote world: Its observations have revealed the recipe for the planet’s toxic atmosphere.
VESPA-39b is a gas giant about the mass of Saturn and the size of Jupiter, but its star is at about the same distance as Mercury is from the Sun, making it a very hot exoplanet. It was an exoplanet found in 2011; Earlier this year, the Webb telescope made observations is revealed carbon dioxide hidden in its atmosphere.
Several molecules and chemical compounds have now been identified, including the elements water, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium. Findings under the publication review and currently available in the preprint server arXiv.
“This is the first time we have seen concrete evidence of photochemistry – chemical reactions initiated by energetic starlight – in exoplanets,” said Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford and lead author of the paper explaining the presence of sulfur dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere, in a European Space Agency release. “I see this as a really promising way to advance our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres.” [this mission].
It is no small feat to extinguish the chemicals floating in the atmosphere of a distant world. The nearest confirmed exoplanet is 24.9 trillion miles away. However, Webb treated such a spot with infinite molecules in WASP-39b.
Webb watched, waiting for the planet to pass before his host star; when he did this, the light of the star from behind illuminated the planet. Webb picked up the infrared wavelengths of that light, and scientists can deduce what chemicals in the atmosphere they’ve absorbed based on the wavelengths of light.
Webb’s capabilities have broader implications for understanding the diversity of exoplanets in our galaxy, with an eye toward their potential habitability. WASP-39b, with its extreme heat and gaseous composition, isn’t hospitable to any life as we know it – but it shows the kind of molecular analysis Webb can apply to distant worlds.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we find in the atmospheres of the smaller, terrestrial planets,” said Mercedes López-Morales, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and a co-author of a recent work, in an OESA release.
The information was suggested to the investigators so that the chemicals in the atmosphere of the planet are dissolved in the clouds, rather than being distributed equally in its own atmosphere. Based on the relative abundances of chemicals in the atmosphere, the researchers believe that WASP 39b emerged from the group of planets over time.
While we don’t know where Webb will turn the infrared we will look, we know; at some point, usually exoplanets on the docket Webb studied the atmospheres of rocky planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and may return to the system in due course. You can save at Webb’s latest targets this.
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