Using data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have identified the presence of methane, a molecule associated with the presence of life, in the atmosphere of a “warm Jupiter” exoplanet.
Although this particular exoplanet may be too hot to be habitable on its own, this discovery shows that JWST could be a powerful tool in Earth’s environment. hunt extraterrestrials.
Challenge: Methane is a carbon-containing molecule that is almost always produced by living organisms on Earth. This means that seeing large amounts of methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere could be a sign that life exists there.
2008, Hubble methane detected It was the first to reach the atmosphere of an exoplanet, and since then such sightings have become rare.
The presence of abundant methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere may indicate the presence of life there.
what’s new? Thanks to JWST, the pace of these discoveries appears to be increasing.
In September, a University of Cambridge-led team reported using the telescope to: detect methane A group led by Arizona State University (ASU) scientists used it to detect methane around another exoplanet.
“Prior to JWST, methane remained largely undetected on planets that should be rich in methane, despite expectations that it might be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope.” Said Researcher Michael Rein is an exoplanetist at ASU.
the study: The exoplanet at the center of the study, WASP-80 b, is a gas giant planet located approximately 163 light-years from Earth. It is similar in size and mass to Jupiter, but has a higher surface temperature, so it is considered a “warm Jupiter” (a “hot Jupiter” is a planet similar to Jupiter) Radical temperature).
To determine the composition of WASP-80 b’s atmosphere, the ASU team studied from our perspective how the light from the host star thins as the exoplanet passes in front of it. This method is known as the “transit method.”
“It’s similar to a lamp dimming when someone passes in front of it,” said researcher Lewis Wellbanks. “During this period, a thin ring of the planet’s atmosphere around the planet’s day-night boundary is illuminated by stars.”
“For certain colors of light, where molecules in a planet’s atmosphere absorb light, the atmosphere appears thicker, blocks more starlight, and is deeper and darker than at other wavelengths, where the atmosphere appears transparent. “It causes a lot of trouble,” he continued.
The research team also studied the light from the star system as warm Jupiter passes by. behind Its protagonist is a technique known as the “eclipse method.”
“All objects emit some kind of light, called thermal radiation, and the intensity and color of the light emitted varies depending on the object’s temperature.” Said Wellbanks and Bay Area Environmental Research Institute researcher Taylor Bell.
“In the case of solar eclipse spectra, absorption by molecules in the planet’s atmosphere typically manifests itself as a reduction in the planet’s emitted light at specific wavelengths,” the researchers added.
The big picture: Although WASP-80 b appears to have methane in its atmosphere, it has a very high average temperature of 1,025 °F. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that life exists on the warm planet Jupiter as we know it. Even the hardiest known species of tardigrade cannot survive temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, methane is very rarely found in the atmospheres of exoplanets, so its detection is anywhere This is a boost for astronomy, and the study could help inform future research focused on planets suitable to host life.
“As methane and other gases are discovered on exoplanets, we continue to learn more about how chemistry and physics work under conditions different from those on Earth, and perhaps soon It will be discovered on other planets as well, reminiscent of gases in “Go Home,” Wellbanks and Bell said.
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