James Webb Space Telescope spots alien planet shrouded in weird sand-filled clouds

By | 07/09/2022

James Webb Space Telescope detects clouds on a ‘hot Jupiter’ that nosotros thought had articulate skies

artist's depiction

An creative person’south depiction of a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet orbiting close to its star.
(Prototype credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

The James Webb Infinite Telescope (JWST or Webb) is already confounding expectations with a surprising new discovery: It detected evidence for clouds on an exoplanet that was thought to have completely clear skies.

Equally function of the first ready of scientific discipline data from the
James Webb Infinite Telescope, NASA released the transmission spectrum for WASP-96b, an
located one,150 light-years away. WASP-96b is a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet, a gas giant that orbits extremely close to its star. (“WASP” stands for “Broad Bending Search for Planets,” which has used arrays of robotic cameras in the Canary Islands and South Africa to discover near 200 exoplanets then far.)

The transmission spectrum reveals molecules in the planet’s atmosphere as information technology transits, or moves in front of its star from our perspective. Equally the star’s low-cal is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, molecules within the atmosphere absorb specific wavelengths of starlight, effectively blocking those wavelengths from reaching us. This creates dark assimilation lines in the spectrum, a kind of molecular fingerprint describing the temper’south chemic limerick. In the
first batch of images from Webb, the spectrum is reversed then that information technology more easily shows where the greatest corporeality of light has been blocked.

Gallery: James Webb Infinite Telescope’s 1st photos
Live updates: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope mission

While observing in visual red and infrared light, Webb detected the absorption signature of water in WASP-96b’south atmosphere, also as evidence for clouds and a hazy sky, NASA officials said in a
argument. Clouds can obscure some of the spectral signatures of molecules radiating beneath them.

Notwithstanding, in 2018, the
Very Large Telescope
in Chile, operating in purely visual lite, detected such a strong signature of sodium in the atmosphere that astronomers ended that
WASP-96b had no clouds at all. This finding has since been supported by
recent observations
by the Magellan Baade telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Republic of chile.

Webb’s (reversed) transmission spectrum, with the “peaks” showing where water molecules have absorbed starlight.

(Image credit: NASA/ESA/CSA and STScI)

The contradictory results are proving to be a surprising puzzle for astronomers, who are reanalyzing both the Webb observations and the previous optical observations to better understand the behavior of WASP-96b’s atmosphere and the relationship between its molecular limerick and its deject levels.

Although we may not know for sure whether there are clouds on WASP-96b, we exercise know that there is no life as we know it on that planet. WASP-96b is a bloated
gas behemothic
that orbits and so close to its star that it takes only 3.4 Earth days to complete one orbit, and it’due south heated to over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (ane,000 degrees Celsius). This heat causes the planet’s temper to swell, such that WASP-96b is 1.2 times the diameter of
despite having merely one-half its mass.

The findings prove Webb’due south immense ability and sensitivity. While this is non the first detection of water in an exoplanet’southward temper — the
Hubble Space Telescope
detecting h2o on exoplanets back in 2013
— previous detections took many observations. Webb’southward Most-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, by comparison, picked out the absorption lines belonging to water in just one 6.4-hour observation on June 21. The resulting transmission spectrum is, as yous would look from Webb, the nearly detailed such spectrum ever taken of an exoplanet.

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Keith Cooper is a freelance science journalist and editor in the United kingdom of great britain and northern ireland, and has a degree in physics and astrophysics from the University of Manchester. He’s the writer of “The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020) and has written articles on astronomy, infinite, physics and astrobiology for a multitude of magazines and websites.

Source: https://www.space.com/james-webb-space-telescope-alien-planet-clouds