Astronomers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have conclusively detected evidence of carbon dioxide in a world beyond our solar system.
The planet, called WASP-39 b, is a gas giant orbiting a sun-like star about 700 light-years away, where temperatures are consistently about 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, or 900 degrees Celsius.
While the planet was first discovered in 2011, Webb’s sensitive infrared instruments allowed researchers to analyze it in detail, definitely detecting carbon dioxide there for the first time.
To better understand exoplanets, or planets around other stars, researchers train their telescopes to measure the chemical makeup of the exoplanet’s atmospheres. They do this by looking at how starlight gets filtered by the atmosphere, which dips at very specific wavelengths that correspond to different molecules.
Using Webb’s NIRSpec instrument, astronomers looked at the gases and chemicals present in WASP-39 b’s atmosphere on July 10.
While carbon dioxide is associated with life on Earth, astronomers typically look for the ingredients that sustain life — liquid water, a continuous source of energy, carbon, and other elements — when hunting for life in distant worlds.