The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has reached another milestone in its observations of the atmosphere of an exoplanet.
It was only in late August that the JWST was used by astronomers to discover carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet called WASP-39b, located outside of our solar system at a distance of approximately 700 light years. The discovery of CO2 in WASP 39b's atmosphere was deemed a milestone observation as it was the first time clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside of our solar system had been identified.
With that discovery came numerous follow-up studies on the data Webb had acquired, and now those studies are beginning to come out, revealing more interesting details about the strange atmosphere on the Saturn-like planet. Using Webb's extremely sensitive instruments, astronomers were able to capture large amounts of data on WASP 39b, revealing aspects of the planet such as its size, approximately one-third the size of Jupiter, how far away it orbits, 4.3 million miles from its parent star, or about eight times closer to its star than our solar systems closest planet, Mercury, and that it's shrouded in thick clouds that contain high amounts of sulfur and silicates.
These clouds then interact with the large amounts of light being produced by the parent star that beats down on the closely orbiting planet, resulting in sulfur dioxide being produced in high quantities. Additionally, researchers were able to determine that WASP's diameter is 1.3 times greater than Jupiter's despite its overall smaller size. Furthermore, it was discovered the planet operates at a temperature of 1,600 Fahrenheit.
These observations with Webb allowed researchers to estimate how WASP even came to be, with researchers suggesting the planet formed through the collisions of multiple protoplanets at a distance that was once much further away from its parent star. Lastly, the techniques and instruments used by astronomers to inspect WASP 39b are the same methods that researchers will use to inspect alien worlds for life, meaning that the observations conducted on WASP 39b are simply great practice that yields incredible results.
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