NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has detected water in the atmosphere of a hot, puffy gaseous planet orbiting a Sun-like star over a thousand light-years away, the US space agency announced today.
According to NASA, the monitoring is the most informative to date, demonstrating Webb’s extraordinary ability to analyze distant atmospheres. WASP-96 b is one of the Milky Way’s more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets.
It is located approximately 1,150 light-years away in the southern-sky constellation Phoenix, and it symbolizes a type of gas giant that has no direct alternative in our solar system, according to the organization.
WASP-96 b is much puffier than any planet orbiting our Sun, with a mass less than 50 percent that of Jupiter and a diameter 1.2 times larger. It is significantly hotter when the temperature exceeds 538 degrees Celsius.
According to NASA, WASP-96 b orbits its Sun-like star at one-ninth the length between Mercury and the Sun, completing one circuit every three and a half Earth days.
WASP-96 b is an ideal target for atmospheric observations due to its large size, short orbital period, puffy ambience, and lack of contaminating light from nearby objects in the sky.
While the Hubble Space Telescope has studied numerous exoplanet atmospheres over the last two decades, capturing the first clear detection of water in 2013, Webb’s immediate and more detailed observation represents a significant step forward in the quest to characterize potentially habitable planets beyond Earth.
Webb’s Approaching Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) measured light from the WASP-96 system for 6.4 hours on June 21 as the planet passed across the star.
This produced a light curve depicting the overall dimming of starlight during the transit, as well as a transfer spectrum revealing the brightness change of individual electromagnetic spectrum of infrared light ranging from 0.6 to 2.8 microns.
The light curve confirmed the existence, size, and composition of the planet, which had already been ascertained by other observations.
The transmission spectrum revealed previously unknown details about the atmosphere, such as the unmistakable signature of water, haze, and scientific proof of clouds that were previously thought not to exist based on previous observations.
A transmission spectrum is created by comparing starlight filtered through a planet’s atmosphere as it moves across the star to unfiltered starlight detected so when planet is beside the star.
Based on the permeation pattern – the locations and heights of peaks on the graph – researchers can detect and measure the relative abundance of key gases in a planet’s atmosphere.