The James Webb Telescope (JWST) does more than allow us to view extraordinary images of the universe.
The latter was also able to confirm the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, an unprecedented fact.
A new first in the history of space exploration
WASP-39b is an exoplanet located outside our solar system, some 700 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Virgo. It is currently at the center of attention since the James Webb Telescope detected the presence of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. The information was officially communicated by NASA on August 25.
It is quite simply the first time in the history of humanity that this chemical compound has been discovered with certainty outside our solar system. Until then, this could not be concretely confirmed, including in 2008 when James Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble telescope, made a similar discovery in the atmosphere of an exoplanet called HD 189733b.
WASP-39b was discovered in 2011, and in 2018 water molecules were detected by Hubble and Spitzer telescopes in the atmosphere of this exoplanet, whose temperature is around 900 degrees Celsius. There would be about three times more water in its atmosphere than in that of Saturn. WASP-39b is about 1.3 times the size of Jupiter but weighs only a quarter of its mass.
James Webb’s advanced technology is decisive
James Webb’s observations of exoplanet WASP-39b are to be published in the scientific journal Nature on August 29, 2022. The presence of CO2 could be detected by one of the instruments on board the telescope: the near-infrared spectrograph. The sensitivity of the device on board the telescope allowed a detailed analysis of the atmosphere and the distinction of light variations betraying the presence of molecules such as carbon dioxide.
However, not enough to imagine a peaceful life on this exoplanet. Due to the very high average temperature, the strong presence of carbon dioxide is not necessarily favorable to the development of an environment conducive to life. But in any case, it is a superb discovery made possible by James Webb.