Webb found a strong case for a rocky exoplanet with an atmosphere

The search for a rocky world in a sheltered atmosphere elsewhere in space has eluded scientists, but the James Webb Space Telescope has found a strong case.

Webb, a leading infrared observatory run by NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies, took a close look at 55 Cangri e, a super-Earth shrouded in carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide just 41 light-years away.

But calling it an „Earth-like world” is wrong. Discovered 13 years ago in the constellation of Cancer, the planet appears to be orbiting very close to its star, and its surface is lava. And because it hugs the star so tightly, there’s no chance that one side will continue to spin in darkness.

However, the discovery may be the best evidence scientists have ever found of an atmosphere on a rocky planet outside Earth’s own solar system. Such discovery, Published In the journal NatureIt boosts experts’ hopes that they will eventually find rocky worlds with hospitable atmospheres.

„Webb pushes the boundaries of exoplanet characterization for rocky planets,” said Renyu Hu, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In a statement. „This really enables a new type of science.”

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Webb may have discovered an Earth-like world with an atmosphere

When exoplanets pass in front of their host star, the star’s light is filtered through that atmosphere. Molecules in the atmosphere absorb certain light wavelengths, or colors, so by breaking down the star’s light into its constituent parts — a rainbow — astronomers can use Webb to figure out which parts of light are missing and figure out the atmosphere’s molecular structure.

Mashable Speed ​​of Light

Scientists have detected signs of atmospheres around many exoplanets over the past 20 years, but not all of them Gas giant planetsLike Jupiter, dense atmospheres are composed mostly of hydrogen.

Knowing what’s in another planet’s atmosphere is important. NASA has playfully called Earth’s own atmosphere its „security blanket”: without it, life would not thrive on the planet. This cocoon holds oxygen in the air and filters out harmful UV radiation from the sun. Also, it creates pressure that allows liquid water on the Earth’s surface.

NASA created a travel poster-inspired rendering of what exoplanet 55 Cancri e might look like.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech illustration

The first sign of it 55 Cangiri E A substantial atmosphere may come from temperature measurements based on the infrared light it emits. If the planet is covered in dark molten rock with no atmosphere — or a very thin layer of vaporized rock — the side should be about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in constant light.

Instead, the researchers found a temperature of about 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Webb observes the universe in infrared

„Webb pushes the boundaries of exoplanet characterization for rocky planets,” said Renyu Hu, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez Illustration

„This is a very strong indication that energy is distributed from day to night, mostly by a turbulent atmosphere,” Hu said.

Although 55 Cancri e appears too hot to support life as we know it, scientists think studying it will improve their understanding of the primitive conditions of Earth, Venus and Mars, which some believe were once covered in oceans of magma.

„Ultimately, we want to understand what conditions make it possible for a rocky planet to sustain a gas-rich atmosphere: the key ingredient for a habitable planet,” Hu said.

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