NASA detects water on a planet in the Milky Way.

The Nasa revealed that the The James Webb Space Telescope has detected traces of wateras well as evidence of clouds and haze, in the atmosphere of WASP-96b, a hot gas giant planet orbiting a Sun-like star 1,150 light-years from Earth.

After having surprised the world this Monday with the shared photos of distant galaxiesthe US space agency demonstrated Webb’s unprecedented ability to analyze atmospheres on distant celestial bodies.

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The results of new measurements sent by the telescope confirm the discovery of water vapor on the exoplanet, in addition to clusters of mist never seen before. Jonathan Fortney, an astronomer at the University of California, said the streaks of cloud found where they weren’t expected are a surprise: “I don’t know what to say. It’s fantastic,” said the scientist.

How NASA discovered signs of water with the James Webb Space Telescope

As NASA explained, reaching these conclusions required a careful timing. From the perspective of our solar system, WASP-96 b completes a circle around its star every three and a half days. In doing so, the planet leaves behind a trail of light called starlight. Webb’s spectrograph measured light from WASP-96 b for 6.4 hours as the planet moved through the star. This resulted in a curve showing the overall gradation of starlight during transit, and a transmission spectrum revealing the change in wavelength brightness.

NASA's James Webb Telescope has detected traces of water on the distant planet WASP-96 b

The light curve confirmed properties of the planet that had already been determined from other observations: the existence, size and orbit of the planet. But the scatter spectrum has revealed previously hidden details of WASP-96b’s atmosphere: unmistakable traces of water, hints of haze and evidence of clouds that were thought not to exist based on previous sightings.

“The data received is not only the most detailed on the atmosphere of an exoplanet captured to date, but also demonstrates the existence of key molecules such as oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide,” said the Nasa.

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How is the planet WASP-96 b

WASP-96b is one of more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets in the Milky Way. Located approximately 1,150 light-years away in the southern sky constellation Phoenix, it represents a type of gas giant unequaled in our solar system.

It is called an exoplanet because orbits around a star similar to our Sun. However, due to its mass greater than that of Saturn and a diameter 1.2 times greater than that of Jupiter, WASP-96 b is much larger than the planets orbiting our star. And it is also significantly warmer: its surface has a temperature of over 538 degrees Celsius.

This combination of large size, short orbital period and lack of contaminating light from nearby objects in the sky makes WASP-96 b a ideal target for atmospheric observations.

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