Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The presence of methane gas in exoplanets has piqued the interest of scientists

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The James Webb Space Telescope’s recent discovery of methane gas in the atmosphere of the extrasolar planet WASP-80b has attracted the attention and interest of astronomers because this gas represents a chemical substance. Exciting searchers for life signatures in other worlds.

The discovery was presented in a new paper published in the journal Nature titled “Methane in the Atmosphere of Warm Exoplanet WASP-80b” by Taylor Bell, a senior researcher at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. Reported by website.Scientific alert“.

Planet WASP-80b is a gas giant with about half the mass of Jupiter. It orbits a main star that is about 1.5 billion years old. The planet is about 162 light-years away and is the only planet discovered around the star so far.

Because WASP-80b is a gas giant, life has been ruled out except in some extreme science fiction scenarios, and it is unlikely that the source of the methane gas results from the so-called “olivine arc”. A rocky planet, which leaves a source of methane on the planet. A place of research and excitement.

With this discovery, the exoplanet can be compared to the methane-rich atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune in our solar system. This will help to better understand future methane discoveries.

WASP-80b is described as a “hot Jupiter”. Its temperature is about 550°C, while Jupiter’s temperature is about 112°C.

Temperature is a critical point, especially in light of the dearth of discoveries of methane in the atmospheres of exoplanets, so at this stage in the game, each discovery plays an important role in developing atmospheric theory and driving follow-up research.

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The paper’s authors explain that WASP-80b’s temperature “in an interesting transition regime, equilibrium chemistry models should have detectable CH4 and CO/CO2 characteristics in the planet’s transmission and emission spectra…”

The exoplanet is very close to its red dwarf star, taking only three days to orbit. The planet is so far from Earth and so close to its star that even the powerful James Webb Space Telescope can’t actually see it. Instead, astronomers used the James Webb Space Telescope to study the combined light of the star and planet during transits and eclipses.

Methane has not been detected in exoplanetary atmospheres by telescopes such as Hubble and Spitzer, which can observe in the infrared, though not the James Webb Space Telescope.

The lack of findings has led scientists to develop theoretical explanations for how methane decreases in the atmosphere.

Since the James Webb Space Telescope discovered methane, this raises an important question, and the planet deserves a closer look.

Methane attracts scientific interest mainly because of its short lifetime in planetary atmospheres. Methane cannot withstand starlight for long, at least not in the terrestrial atmosphere. It undergoes photosynthesis and must be constantly renewed to maintain its presence in the atmosphere.

If a rocky planet has a lot of methane, the source must be massive, which would make a biogenic source. For example, on Earth, biological activity produces large amounts of methane.

Methane is common in the Solar System, although not necessarily abundant. As far as scientists can tell, it’s all insignificant activity—in short, evidence of life.

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If astronomers continue to detect methane gas in high exoplanet atmospheres, it will change the idea of ​​methane as a biomolecule.

Researchers explain that finding exoplanets with methane in their atmospheres could help them understand the Solar System.

“NASA has a history of sending spacecraft to our solar system’s gas giants to measure the levels of methane and other molecules in their atmospheres,” the authors wrote.

They continued: “Now, by measuring the same gas on an exoplanet, we can begin to make a comparison and see if predictions from the Solar System match what we see outside of it.”

The researchers also say that measuring methane together with water can help determine how and where the planet formed.

“For example, by measuring the amount of methane and water on a planet, we can infer the ratio of carbon atoms to oxygen atoms,” they wrote.

This ratio is expected to change depending on where and when planets form in its system, as astronomers can use this data to determine whether a planet formed close to its star or formed far away and then migrated inland.

“Our findings lead us to believe that other carbon-rich molecules such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can be monitored, helping to paint a more detailed picture of conditions in the planet’s atmosphere,” the researchers explain.

While methane gets all the attention because of its connection to biology, this research shows another side of methane. This will help us understand how and where certain planets formed and whether they migrated.

The James Webb Space Telescope is poised to play a major role in building scientists’ knowledge of methane and the atmosphere.

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The authors conclude: “One thing is clear: exploration using the James Webb Space Telescope is full of potential surprises.”

Nadia Barnett
Nadia Barnett
"Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator."

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