Yesterday, the University of Maryland reported that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-39b, a gas giant about 700 light-years away. This is the first time carbon dioxide has been detected on a planet outside of our solar system.
Eliza Kempton, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, stated:
The reason we hadn’t been able to definitively identify CO2 in the atmosphere of WASP-39 b previously was that we never had a telescope that could produce spectra across the right wavelength range…This discovery shows us that Webb is delivering on its promise of being a transformational facility for astronomical observations.
Natalie Batalha of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who leads the team, added:
Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide on WASP-39 b bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets.
Again, the JWST is showing it is worth its weight in gold (see note below) as it peers through the universe and quickly observes things we only speculated about earlier.
Note: In fact, the JWST weights 14,300 lbs here on Earth, or 228,800 ounces. Today, gold costs $1,763.00 per ounce. So if the JWST was made of solid gold, it would cost about $403 million. Given that the JWST actually costed $10 billion to build and launch, in weight it is 25 times more valuable than gold.