Confirm signs of water on distant exoplanet WASP-96b

NASA reported that the James Webb Space Telescope recorded clear signs of water, accompanied by clouds and haze, in the atmosphere of the distant exoplanet WASP-96 b, which orbits a star similar to our Sun located 1,120 light-years from Earth. . This may be the first big discovery of the new space telescope, which will allow us to get closer than ever to the mysterious extrasolar worlds.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has detected the unmistakable signature of water, along with evidence of clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding Earth. WASP-96b, a huge gaseous exoplanet located in the constellation of Phoenix. It was discovered in 2013 by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP): we now know that it contains water, one of the first essential elements for the development of certain forms of life.

Water more than 1,000 light-years from Earth

The The gas giant every 3.4 days, it orbits the G-class star WASP-96, similar to our Sun, about 1,120 light-years from Earth. According communicated NASA, Webb Telescope observation reveals the presence of specific gas molecules, being the most detailed of its kind to date. This demonstrates Webb’s unprecedented ability to analyze atmospheres at enormous distances, a condition that will greatly enhance scientific discoveries related to exoplanets.

Previously, the Hubble Space Telescope had analyzed many atmospheres of exoplanets over the past twenty years, even achieving the first clear detection of water in 2013, but now Webb’s immediate and more detailed observation is a major step in finding relevant new information about potentially habitable planets beyond the Earth. solar system.

The measurements sent by the Webb Telescope confirmed the conclusion of water vapour on the exoplanet, next to clusters of mist never seen before. Although scientists are aware of the range of the new telescope, they were surprised by the traces of clouds and steam discovered on the distant extrasolar world. Everything indicates that this is only the first of many discoveries that Webb will feature in the future.

Atmosphere data from WASP-96b, obtained by the Webb telescope. Credits: NASA, ESA, ASC and STScI.

light variations

How were water signs discovered? WASP-96 b is known to complete a full orbit around its star every three and a half days. During this journey, the exoplanet leaves a luminous trail known to specialists as the Stars light. The spectrograph aboard the Webb Telescope was able to obtain a curve that shows the general gradation of starlight throughout the transit, as well as changes in wavelength brightness during this journey. Precisely, these variations are those used by scientists to confirm the characteristics of planetary bodies, as in this case the water and the clouds.

WASP-96b It has a mass greater than that of Saturn and a diameter 1.2 times greater than that of Jupiter, so its dimensions are much greater than what can be expected of a star located in our solar system. Something similar happens with the temperatures recorded on its surface: WASP-96 b reaches surface temperatures above 538 degrees Celsiussomething impossible on the planets that revolve around our Sun.

However, the detection of water and fog raises a big question about this type of gigantic gaseous and hot exoplanets: how is the presence of water determined under these conditions? Moreover, its large size, together with the minimum orbital period and the absence of nearby objects that complicate observations, make WASP-96 b a perfect target for the analysis of the foreign atmospheres of those distant worlds.

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