JWST detects for the first time carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

This migration has left fingerprints in all the atmospheres of the planets, as both worlds have recovered planetesimals charged with heavy elements – small solid bodies present in the protoplanetary disks around young stars – which are only located closer to the planet. Sun. Some of these bodies dissolved in the atmosphere of our gas giants, enriching them with heavy elements.

If WASP-39 has a similar composition to Saturn, that would suggest that it too experienced such a migration before settling in its current orbit. “[Previously,] we haven’t had much success because our instruments didn’t have the sensitivity, the wavelength coverage, the precision to really give us that information,” says Bean. “And so, we kind of stumbled in the dark about that.”

But JWST is finally opening the metaphorical blinds. Although more data still needs to be analyzed, the new data seems to indicate that WASP-39b is comparable to Saturn, according to Bean.

Migration is not the only explanation for how the atmosphere of WASP-39 b could have been seeded with a heavy element like CO2, Nevertheless. It’s possible that, while still young, the world was beset by comets and asteroids – an upbringing also comparable to Saturn.

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In addition to having implications for the origins of WASP-39b, the JWST also teases another mystery – another type of molecule whose presence cannot be explained as easily as CO2.

Knowing the temperature, pressure, and elemental abundances of a planet’s atmosphere, scientists can usually calculate a good estimate of the world’s expected chemistry. But the unidentified spectral feature goes beyond what the model suggested, indicating that other atmospheric phenomena create the mystery molecule.

“It’s a subtle spectral feature,” says Bean, which is why the team takes its time to analyze all the data before sharing their findings. But ultimately, “we wouldn’t have put him in the paper if we didn’t have a lot of faith in him.”

JWST doesn’t just focus on the mysteries of WASP-39b either. Or even just giant planets, for that matter.

Now that JWST has proven its capability, researchers will use the observatory to peer into more Earth-like worlds. Although the level of detail achievable for a rocky planet is significantly less than for a giant planet, the confidence gained from observing planets like WASP-39 b will influence the confidence in the telescope and its instruments when observing worlds. rocky. .

“I think most people, given the choice [between WASP-39 b and Trappist-1 c] they would probably pick Trappist-1c,” says Bean, referring to a rocky Venus-like world about 40 light-years away. But “everything is connected for me,” he says. “We have to understand [WASP-39 b] at the same time you have to understand [Trappist-1 c]because the unifying factor is planets with atmospheres, our observing techniques and how we interpret that.

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