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First alien planet’s atmosphere seen in high definition – Space & Astronomy

A new record-breaking feat by the James Webb Space Telescope (Jwst), NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canada (CSA): it has imaged an alien planet’s atmosphere in previously unattainable detail, and has been able to provide a complete picture of its chemical composition. This is a result that exceeds expectations, and it promises a new stage in the exploration of planets outside the solar system. The data obtained was analyzed by hundreds of researchers, who published it in five studies available online on the arXiv platform, which welcomes articles awaiting review by the scientific community.

The planet that allowed Webb to demonstrate its extraordinary capabilities is Wasp-39b, a “hot Saturn” of about 870 degrees that orbits very close to a star 700 light-years away. To capture Wasp-39b’s light, JWST tracked the planet as it passed in front of its star: Each chemical in the atmosphere absorbs different colors of the starlight spectrum, so the missing colors tell astronomers which molecules are present. “We expected that we would be able to see many of these signals, but when I first saw the data, I was shocked,” says Mercedes Lopez-Morales of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, one of the study’s authors.

Among the unprecedented discoveries is the first detection, in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, of sulfur dioxide, a molecule produced by chemical reactions generated by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star. On Earth, the protective ozone layer at the top of the atmosphere is created in a similar way: “This means — comments Diana Powell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, co-author on one of the studies — that our planet has a lot more in common than we thought with “Saturn.” hot”.

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