JWST peers into the atmosphere of an exoplanet bombarded by stellar radiation

An artist’s illustration of WASP 39-b. | Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

This week, astronomers announced that they’d found evidence of chemical reactions in the atmosphere of an exoplanet 700 light years away from Earth. Researchers using the James Webb Space Telescope created a detailed chemical portrait of the scorching gases swirling around exoplanet WASP-39b. This “hot Saturn” planet orbits extremely close to its host star, meaning it has high temperatures of up to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit or 900 degrees Celsius. It is also puffy, with around one quarter the mass of Jupiter but 1.3 times its size.

Early data about WASP-39b was shared this summer when JWST detected carbon dioxide in its atmosphere — the first time this gas had been detected on a planet outside our solar system. Now, a more detailed…

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