NASA's James Webb Telescope discovered the existence of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet known as WASP-39 b, marking the first such discovery on a planet outside of the solar system. Image courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA and J. Olmsted

NASA’s James Webb Telescope discovered the existence of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet known as WASP-39 b, marking the first such discovery on a planet outside of the solar system. Image courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA and J. Olmsted

Aug. 25 (UPI) — NASA’s James Webb telescope captured the first clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside of the solar system, the space agency said Thursday.

The exoplanet, WASP-39 b, is a hot gas giant with a mass about a quarter that of Jupiter orbiting a Sun-like star 700 light-years away from Earth and the discovery of carbon dioxide which NASA said indicates the Webb telescope may be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in thin atmospheres of smaller rocky planets.

“Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide on WASP-39 b bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets,” said Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who led the research team.

The team used Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph, or NIRSPec, to observe the exoplanet as part of a larger investigation including observations of two other transiting planets.

“The goal is to analyze the Early Release Science observations quickly and develop open-source tools for the science community to use,” Vivien Parmentier, a co-investigator from Oxford University said. “This enables contributions from all over the world and ensures that the best possible science will come out of the coming decades of observations.”

WASP-39 b’s discovery was reported in 2011 and observation from previous space telescopes revealed that water vapor, sodium and potassium existed in the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

The Webb telescope’s NIRSpec produced a spectrum of the exoplanet’s atmosphere that showed a small hill between 4.1 and 4.6 microns, representing the existence of carbon dioxide.

“As soon as the data appeared on my screen, the whopping carbon dioxide feature grabbed me,” Zafar Rustamkulov, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science team said. “It was a special moment, crossing an important threshold in exoplanet sciences.”

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