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James Webb telescope finds CO2 for first time in exoplanet atmosphere

A few months ago, the James Webb Space Telescope added another major scientific discovery to its growing list: the first detection of signs of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres of an exoplanet.

Although the exoplanet may never harbor life as we know it, the successful discovery of carbon dioxide gives researchers hope that similar observations can be made on rocky objects that are more hospitable to life.

“My first thought was, Wow, we really have a chance of detecting the atmospheres of terrestrial planets,” said Natalie Batalha, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and hundreds of participating Webb researchers. One of the people on the project wrote on Twitter.

Their study of exoplanet WASP-39 will soon be published in the journal Nature.

“For me, this opens the door to future studies of super-Earths (larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune) or even Earth-sized planets,” said Pierre-Olivier Lagage, an astrophysicist at the Commissariat. to atomic energy (CEA). AFP.

The detection of carbon dioxide will also help scientists learn more about the formation of WASP-39, NASA said in a press release. Orbiting its star every four Earth days, the exoplanet has a quarter of Jupiter’s mass but 1.3 times its diameter.

Its orbital frequency and large atmosphere make WASP-39 an ideal candidate for early testing of Webb’s state-of-the-art infrared sensor, called NIRSpec.

Each time the exoplanet passes in front of its star, it blocks an almost imperceptible amount of light.

But at the edge of the planet, a small amount of light passes through the atmosphere.

Webb’s highly sensitive NIRSpec can detect tiny changes in the atmosphere in light, allowing scientists to determine its gas composition.

Hubble and Spitzer have already detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in WASP-39’s atmosphere, but thanks to Webb and its NIRSpec instrument, carbon dioxide can now be added to that list.

“This is a special moment that crosses an important threshold in exoplanet science,” Johns Hopkins researcher Zafar Rustamkulov said in a NASA press release.


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