NASA's James Webb Space Telescope revealed the molecular and chemical profile in the skies of a gas giant 700 light-years from Earth. Sputnik.
The new findings revealed a different 'portrait' of the exoplanet WASP-39 b, located about 700 light-years away and also known as a 'hot Saturn' (a planet almost as massive as Saturn but in a smaller orbit than Mercury). They captured the data of the atoms and molecules present in the atmosphere of this world that are capable of revealing how the clouds present there were formed, as well as their origins.
In addition, the telescope trained on the exoplanet's atmosphere, also revealing its composition, made up of water, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium. On Earth, the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is created in a similar way.
"This is the first time we've seen concrete evidence of photochemical activity — chemical reactions initiated by energetic starlight — on exoplanets," said Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the UK, calling this a "promising prospect." to advance our understanding of the atmosphere of exoplanets.
The great variety of "ingredients" of the exoplanet's atmosphere allows us to understand the ratio between the different elements and better understand how this and other planets were born.
To view the light from WASP-39 b, Webb tracked the planet as it passed in front of its star, allowing some of the star's light to filter through the planet's atmosphere. Different types of chemicals in the atmosphere absorb different colors of the spectrum of starlight, so the missing colors tell astronomers which molecules are present. By observing the universe in infrared light, Webb is able to pick up chemical signatures that cannot be detected in visible light.
Other atmospheric components detected by the Webb telescope are sodium (Na), potassium (K) and water vapor (H2O), confirming previous observations made with space and ground-based telescopes, as well as the finding of other traces of water, at these longer wavelengths, which had not been seen before.
Webb also observed carbon dioxide (CO2) at a higher resolution, providing twice the data than reported in his previous observations. On the other hand, carbon monoxide (CO) was detected, but the Webb data showed no obvious signs of methane (CH4) or hydrogen sulfide (H2S). If present, these molecules are at very low levels.
Having such a comprehensive list of chemical ingredients in an exoplanet's atmosphere also allows scientists to know the abundance of different elements relative to one another, such as carbon-oxygen or potassium-oxygen ratios. This, in turn, allows us to understand how this planet—and perhaps others—formed from the disk of gas and dust surrounding the parent star in its early years.