Astronomers studied the atmosphere of an exoplanet using the James Webb Space Telescope.
European astronomers have found clouds of water vapor, sulfur dioxide and sand in the atmosphere of an exoplanet using the James Webb Space Telescope, calling it a “significant” discovery.
Exoplanets are planets found beyond our solar system, many of which orbit other stars.
The new study led by astronomers from KU Leuven looked at an exoplanet called WASP-107b, a Neptune-like gas giant discovered in 2017.
It is more than 200 light years away from Earth and is orbiting a star slightly smaller than the Sun. Its “thin atmosphere” allows astronomers to study its chemical composition.
Astronomers were surprised to find that the atmosphere contained sulfur dioxide, which smells like burning matches, but no methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas and its absence indicates that the exoplanet’s core is hot, he said.
Leanne Dessin, a professor at KU Leuven and one of the study’s lead authors, said the James Webb Space Telescope is “bringing about a scientific revolution in the field of exoplanet characterization at unprecedented speed.” in a statement,
“The discovery of sand clouds, water vapor and sulfur dioxide in the tenuous atmosphere of this exoplanet by James Webb’s MIRI instrument is an important milestone,” Dessin said.
He said that it also throws light on our solar system. Astronomers’ findings were Published in Nature Journal,
Astronomers found that the clouds in the exoplanet’s atmosphere are made of silicon, which is the main component of sand.
The cycle of sand clouds high in the atmosphere is similar to the water vapor and cloud cycle on Earth, but with “droplets made of sand,” Michael Min of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research said in a statement.
Researchers say the observations provide important insights into the chemistry of this exoplanet.
The James Webb Space Telescope is a space science observatory and an international program led by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency.