James Webb Discovers Carbon on Wasp-39b

The atmosphere of a far-off planet has been detected for the first time with clarity by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Around 700 light years from Earth, the world known as WASP-39b orbits a star similar to the Sun. It was first discovered in 2011.

The most recent discovery sheds light on the planet’s makeup, and the study’s results were published in the scientific journal Nature. In the past, NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have shown that the planet’s atmosphere contains water vapor, sodium, and potassium.

WASP-39b is a hot gas giant like Jupiter in our solar system, according to NASA. However, it has a diameter that is 1.3 times larger than Jupiter’s and a mass that is identical to Saturn’s. According to NASA, this planet has an average temperature of about 900 degrees Celsius, which adds to its puffiness. It travels in an extremely tight orbit around its star, turning once every four Earth days. So indeed, on this specific planet, four days would equal one year.

So why does it matter if carbon dioxide exists on a far-off exoplanet?

The finding advances NASA’s understanding of the planet’s formation and makeup. Additionally, it aids in the understanding of how much solid and how much gaseous material went into creating the planet. NASA employed Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to make their findings, claiming that WASP-39 b is a perfect target for transmission spectroscopy.

The team that carried out this analysis, led by a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University Zafar Rustamkulov, stated in a news release that the enormous carbon dioxide characteristic “grabbed me as soon as the data showed on my screen.” This was a pivotal moment in the study of exoplanets.

Project manager Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz said that the discovery of such a potent carbon dioxide signal on WASP-39 b is hopeful for discovering atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets.

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