The first ever detection of carbon dioxide in a far-away planet outside the Solar System

Anita Durairaj

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An artist's conception of an exoplanetPhoto byAlbaluau; CC-BY-SA-4.0

An article in the science journal Nature published in September 2022 highlights the first-ever detection of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a far-away planet that is outside our Solar System.

Carbon dioxide is an important chemical species that is found in different planetary atmospheres.

On Earth, it is a trace gas in the atmosphere found in concentrations of about 0.04% by volume. Levels of CO2 on Earth have increased due to burning fossil fuels, global warming, and climate change.

CO2 is found in much higher concentrations on other planets. For example, 98% of the atmosphere of Venus and Mars is composed of CO2.

Now, scientists are detecting CO2 even further away outside the solar system.

Planets located outside the solar system are called exoplanets and there is a particular exoplanet that has captured the attention of scientists.

The exoplanet, WASP-39b is 700 light years away from Earth. It is described as a "hot, gas giant" that is roughly the same size in mass as the planet Saturn.

The definitive evidence of carbon dioxide on the exoplanet was detected by the James Webb Space Telescope.

The space telescope was able to detect CO2 only because WASP-39b was positioned in front of its star. The telescope detected the infrared starlight that penetrated WASP-39b's atmosphere.

Light with a specific wavelength was absorbed by the gases making up WASP-39b's atmosphere. The specific wavelength of absorption provided confirmation for scientists that CO2 existed on the planet.

While the detection of CO2 is indeed good news, it does not indicate that WASP-39b contains life. In fact, scientists state that it has an inhospitable environment with scorching hot temperatures and its gaseous atmosphere is not amenable for humans.

Regardless, the study opens up new avenues for scientists to explore the world beyond our solar system.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.

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