O James Webb Space Telescope revealed details of atmosphere of an exoplanet — planet located outside the Solar System. The distant world called WASP-39 b was discovered in 2011 and had already been the subject of investigations by Hubble and Spitzer, but now the powerful NASA instrument was able to deliver a complete analysis of all the components present in the gas giant, such as atoms, molecules and signs of active chemistry.

WASP-39 b is located 700 light-years away from Earth and has earned the nickname “Hot Saturn” because it has a mass similar to that of our neighbor. It revolves around a star, but in an orbit 8 times smaller than that of Mercury—so close proximity that the planet manages to make a complete revolution every 4 Earth days.

THE planetary atmosphere it has an abundance of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, the latter molecule being produced from chemical reactions triggered by the highly energized light of its parent star. On Earth, this process known as photochemistry gave rise to the ozone layer. In addition, the presence of clouds was found, but instead of appearing as a uniform blanket over the planet, they appear more brittle throughout the atmosphere.

The atmospheric composition of exoplanet WASP-39 b has been revealed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.Source: Source: NASA/Reproduction

The telescope also detected other atmospheric components, but at lower levels, such as water, sodium, potassium and carbon monoxide. These ingredients together suggest that WASP-39 b may have been formed by a series of collisions of smaller bodies in the disk of gas and dust that gathered around the parent star in its younger years.

As the James Webb continues its journey through space, scientists hope the discovery will help them probe for signs of life in the atmospheres of smaller rocky planets, such as those in the TRAPPIST-1 system. This stellar region, outside the influence of our Sun, is orbited by at least three potentially habitable exoplanets.