James Webb Space Telescope detects carbon dioxide in a distant planet's atmosphere

It's the first evidence of the gas on a planet outside of our solar system.


The James Webb Space Telescope can do much more than produce astonishing images of the universe. The observatory has, for the first time, found clear evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet that's not in our solar system. It detected the gas on WASP-39 b, a gas giant that's orbiting a star some 700 light years away.

The Hubble and Spitzer telescopes previously detected water vapor, sodium and potassium in the planet's atmosphere. But JWST has more powerful and sensitive infrared capabilities and was able to pick up the signature of carbon dioxide as well.

"Understanding the composition of a planet’s atmosphere can help us learn more about its origin and evolution," an official JWST Twitter account notes. "Webb’s success here offers evidence that it could also be able to detect and measure carbon dioxide in the thinner atmospheres of smaller rocky planets in the future."

NASA previously released spectroscopic data JWST captured from WASP-96 b, a gas exoplanet that's approximately 1,150 light years away. The observatory detected "the unambiguous signature of water," along with haze and clouds, which were not previously believed to exist on WASP-96 b.

Also this week, researchers announced the discovery of an exoplanet that's around 100 light years away. It was detected with the help of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and ground-based telescopes rather than JWST, but it might merit a closer look from the latter. Researchers believe that water could make up as much as 30 percent of the mass of TOI-1452 b, which has been deemed a "super-Earth." It's around 70 percent larger than Earth and it may have a "very deep ocean."