James Webb finds sulfur dioxide in an exoplanet’s atmosphere

(ORDO NEWS) — Thanks to data collected by the James Webb Telescope (JWST), scientists have detected sulfur dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere for the first time. The new data will help better understand how hot Saturns and other planets work.

Exoplanet WASP-39b, discovered in February 2011, belongs to a class of low-density giant planets called “hot Saturns”.

WASP-39b, which has a mass of 0.28 Jupiter masses with a radius of 1.27 Jupiter radii, is located at a distance of 700 light years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.

Previously, James Webb and other space telescopes, in particular Hubble and Spitzer, detected certain substances and chemical compounds in the planet’s atmosphere.

So, in 2018, water molecules were found, and in August of this year, JWST reliably recorded carbon dioxide.

JWST is the most advanced space telescope to date. Its primary mirror is 2.5 times larger than the Hubble.

This allows you to get a lot of data on the composition of the exoplanet’s gaseous envelope, which were previously unavailable.

Because the chemicals absorb different colors of the spectrum, the telescope tracked the exoplanet as the light from the parent star passed through its atmosphere.

Thus, based on the missing colors, astronomers came to the conclusion about the presence of molecules of certain substances in it.

One of the most important results of scientific research was the discovery of sulfur dioxide. In the atmosphere, this compound could appear as a result of chemical reactions under the influence of starlight.

Therefore, the atmosphere and climate on hot Saturns depend on photochemistry.

According to scientists, photochemical reactions are present not only on the gas giants, but also on Earth: such processes create a protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere of our planet.

In addition, JWST received twice as much information about carbon dioxide and noticed carbon monoxide without pronounced signs of methane and hydrogen sulfide impurities.

The telescope also confirmed previous observations by determining the content of sodium, potassium and water vapor in the gaseous envelope of the exoplanet.

Natalie Bataglia, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Santa Cruz and one of the authors of the study, noted the benefits of the James Webb telescope.

“We have observed the exoplanet with several instruments that together provide a wide range of infrared and many chemical fingerprints not available before JWST. Data like this is a game-changer,” Batalha said.


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