The James Webb Telescope confirms the habitable potential of an exoplanet


James Webb was launched into space on December 25, 2021 with the immense hope of giving us answers about our loneliness in space. In 2000 years of modern history, man has never been in contact with extraterrestrials. For many astronomers, this observation is explained by the absence of life around the Earth.

But the recent discoveries of water on the Moon, or even on Mars, have revived the debate as to the possible presence of life in the solar system. Hundreds of light years away, scientists are interested in Wasp-39b, an exoplanet located 700 light years from Earth.

A discovery that “changes the game”

Upon its discovery in 2011, scientists quickly referred to it as Earth’s twin sister. In NASA illustrations, the planet is yellow and gaseous. It thus resembles Jupiter, of which it is the same size. Despite this color, the planet’s atmosphere is filled with water.

A few days ago, the James Webb Space Telescope turned its mirror towards this planet. With his advanced instruments, James Webb succeeded in making a spectrometric analyst of the atmosphere of the exoplanet. Nathalie Batalha, member of the team in charge of the study, the data collected with the JWST are unpublished. They are “game changers”.

NASA researchers had already demonstrated the presence of carbon dioxide. It was already thanks to the observations of James Webb. Since then, five new studies have highlighted the complexity of this distant world.

It is still too much to say that Wasp-39b harbors life, but the arguments in this sense are multiplying. Among the gases discovered in the atmosphere of the exoplanet, one is more interesting than the others. Sulfur dioxide is a sign of a photochemical reaction between starlight and water vapor.

Encouraging data for the future

“This is the very first time we’ve seen direct evidence of photochemistry” ecstasies to Shang-Min Tsa, a researcher at the University of Oxford and author of one of the five studies. This discovery also makes it possible to know more about the planet itself.

Very close to its star, it takes four days to circumnavigate it, Wasp-39b is not the perfect candidate. Very large, larger than Jupiter, if life exists in its atmosphere, it is unlike anything we know on Earth. The discoveries of the James Webb telescope are at least a new demonstration of the device’s power.

NASA now hopes to turn the mirror from the JWST to the Trappist-1 system which is home to exoplanets very similar to Earth.

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