The James Webb telescope has captured the chemical profile of an exoplanet’s atmosphere, space agency ESA reports. In it, signs of an active chemical reaction in such an exoplanet were discovered for the first time.
Astronomers made the discovery in the atmosphere of WASP-39b, an exoplanet about 700 light-years from Earth. The James Webb telescope has provided a profile of that planet’s atmospheric constituents and identified a large number of constituents, including sulfur dioxide. That is a molecule that is produced by chemical reactions. Such a reaction is triggered by the light from the star near the planet. WASP-39b orbits its star in just four Earth days and has a surface temperature of 900 degrees, also writes Nature.
It has been suspected that chemical reactions take place in the atmosphere of the exoplanet, but this is the first time that there is concrete evidence of photochemistry on exoplanets. According to ESA, the findings can be used to increase our knowledge about exoplanet atmospheres. The data may also contribute to the technological knowledge needed to interpret signs of habitability on planets.
Scientists were able to make the discovery using three of James Webb’s measuring tools. The telescope was able to observe the star’s light as it was filtered through WASP-39b’s atmosphere. On the basis of this, a team of more than 300 astronomers was able to find water, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium, in addition to the aforementioned sulfur dioxide. Carbon dioxide has already been found.
James Webb was launched from French Guiana on Christmas Day last year after years of delay. The telescope has now arrived on its final orbit around the L2 point. In July, NASA published the first images from the space telescope. The telescope also recently captured the Pillars of Creation and new images of the Tarantula Nebula. Tweakers published a backstory on James Webb earlier this year.