Scientists have discovered thousands of planets that orbit far from our sun. Some of these planets are rocky and some are gas giants. As these planets orbit their parent stars, chemical reactions start that result in gases. Some of these gases are produced in a way similar to ozone in Earth’s atmosphere.
Using the Webb telescope, scientists have captured images of an atmosphere on WASP-39 b, a Saturn-sized exoplanet that orbits a star in the Virgo constellation. The planet is about as massive as Saturn and orbits the star at a distance of about the same distance as Mercury from the sun.
The Webb telescope’s instruments were able to detect the presence of water, carbon dioxide, sodium, and potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b. These compounds were only present at very low levels. The presence of these chemicals indicates that the planet has formed far from the star. However, scientists are still investigating whether abiotic oxygen is present in the atmosphere. If so, the presence of these chemicals could signal active biology.
The Webb telescope’s instruments have been used to probe the atmospheres of smaller rocky planets. These instruments have also provided a comprehensive molecular profile of the skies of a distant world.