NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found the first and clearest evidence of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere of an exoplanet outside our solar system.
But this particular exoplanet is unlikely to harbor life. CO2 was discovered in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b, a hot gas giant that reaches a blistering 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
In many ways, this is a potentially important discovery that could give us important insights into the evolution of exoplanets. In addition, this discovery may also indicate gas in rocky Earth-like planets.
According to NASA, the WASP-39b exoplanet is about 1.3 times the diameter of Jupiter, and is located at a distance of about 700 light-years from Earth. It orbits its star every four Earth-days.
While scientists have been able to confirm the presence of other substances, including water vapor and sodium, in the atmospheres of other planets, the incredible sensitivity of James Webb's instruments has allowed astronomers to add carbon dioxide to the list.
This space observatory (James Webb) made the discovery by measuring the exoplanet's brightness across a wide spectrum of wavelengths using the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec).
"As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the massive feature of carbon dioxide captured me," Johns Hopkins University graduate student and James Webb scientist Zafar Rustamkulov said during a statement.
This discovery could inspire other exciting discoveries like this one.
"The detection of such a clear signal of carbon dioxide on WASP-39 b is good for detecting atmospheres on small, terrestrial-sized planets," lead researcher Natalie Batala at the University of California at Santa Cruz said in a statement.
Astronomers can now also use this type of data to learn how exoplanets like WASP-39b evolved over the time.
"By measuring this carbon dioxide characteristic, we can determine how much solid versus how much gaseous matter was used to form this gas giant planet," team member Mike Line of Arizona State University said in a statement.
James Webb has made great strides in its short run, in other words, NASA's revolutionary space observatory is already turning the world of astronomy on its head.
"In the coming decade, JWST will make these measurements for a variety of planets, which will provide information about planetary formation and the formation and specificity of our own solar system," Line said.