The recently deployed James Webb Space Telescope has discovered the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.
US space agency NASA has confirmed the evidence, which it says was discovered in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star some 700 light-years from Earth. Planets that orbit a star outside our solar system are called exoplanets.
NASA said the exoplanet where the carbon dioxide was found or detected is a hot gaseous planet. It was discovered in 2011 and is called WASP-39 b. The exoplanet – which has a mass roughly the same as Saturn’s – stays around 900 degrees Celsius. It stays hot because it orbits very close to its star.
The space agency said the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes have made observations of WASP-39b in the past. These observations suggest the presence of water steamsodium and potassium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet.
But now the presence of carbon dioxide has also been confirmed in its atmosphere. NASA said the Webb Telescope was able to make the discovery due to its unusual technical capabilities.
The researchers recently described the discovery in an article published online. A detailed study of the results will appear in a future issue of the publication. Nature.
NASA has described Webb as “the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever built.” It is a joint partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.
Webb is designed to collect more data and explore parts of space that have never been observed before. In July, NASA released the first images captured by the Webb Telescope. The images demonstrated Webb’s ability to collect data on distant objects and observe highly detailed features of galaxies and exoplanets.
NASA said a sensitive infrared instrument enabled the orbiting observatory to confirm the presence of carbon dioxide in WASP-39b’s atmosphere. The instrument is called a near infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec).
NIRSpec is designed to capture radiation in the near infrared wavelengths. Using this instrument, astronomers are able to produce a detailed map of some of the chemicals present in a planet’s atmosphere, if the conditions are right. This allows scientists to search for the presence of gases and other substances.
Zafar Rustamkulov is a student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Webb’s Early Release Science team. He said in a statement that as soon as he saw the carbon dioxide data, he knew it was a breakthrough discovery. “It was a special moment, taking an important step threshold in exoplanet science.
Natalie Batalha of the University of California, Santa Cruz helped lead the team. She said: “To detect such a clear signal of carbon dioxide on WASP-39 b auspicious for the detection of atmospheres on earthlymedium-sized planets.
NASA said such discoveries are important because they help scientists better understand the composition of a planet’s atmosphere. This can provide valuable insight into how planets formed and developed over time.
“Carbon dioxide molecules are sensitive tracers of the history of planet formation,” said Mike Line of Arizona State University. He is another member of the research team. “By measuring this carbon dioxide…we can determine the amount of solid matter versus the amount of gaseous matter that was used to form this gas giant planet.”
Line added that in the years to come, the Webb Telescope should continue to make similar discoveries. By doing so, scientists can gain”Overview in the details of the formation of the planets and the uniqueness of our own solar system.
I am Brian Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from NASA, Agence France-Presse and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
words in this story
steam – nm small drops of liquid that exist in the air
threshold – nm the level at which something begins to happen
auspicious – nm be a good sign for the future
earthly – adj. of or related to the Earth
trace – v. follow something
Overview – nm the ability to understand what something really looks like
unique – adj. different from other things
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