A research team was able to use data from the Weltraum Teleskops James Webb prove the extensive atmospheric structure of an alien world. It is the exoplanet WASP-39b, 700 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. It belongs to the “hot Saturn” category because, although it is as large as our ringed planet, it is eight times closer to its parent star – comparable to the distance from Mercury to our sun.
Researchers had been observing this exoplanet for a long time. However, the new findings are a first in astronomy, as reported by the American space agency NASA on November 22, 2022.
The atmospheric structure of WASP-39 b
The research team observed the exoplanet as it passed its host star. The instruments of James Webb observed the spectra of light shimmering through the planet’s atmosphere. Based on the missing spectra, which the research team analyzed in infrared light, the scientists were able to deduce the presence of molecules in the exoplanet atmosphere. This is because different chemicals in the atmosphere absorb different colors of starlight.
This enabled them to detect, for example, sulfur dioxide (SO2), sodium (Na), potassium (K) and water vapor (H2O) in WASP-39 b. They also found clues carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). Another finding was made by exoplanet researcher Kazumasa Ohno from the University of California in Santa Cruz:
The data also indicate that oxygen is much more abundant in the atmosphere than carbon. This may indicate that WASP-39 b originally formed far from the host star.