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Identifying new exoplanets with oxyegen using Webb telescope

Date: 10 January 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

 Researchers have discovered a new way to use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to look for signs of oxygen on distant exoplanets.

 

Background

The oxygen signal is known since the early 1980s from Earth’s atmospheric studies but has never been studied for exoplanet research. Oxygen at similar levels as on Earth was thought to be undetectable with Webb.

 

Details

  • The research notes that by looking for signals of oxygen molecules colliding in the atmospheres of these distant planets, scientists could “distinguish between living and nonliving planets.

  • Using the JWST, researchers will look for light patterns in a planet’s atmosphere. When the oxygen molecules collide, they block some of the infrared light spectrum seen by the telescope, indicating their presence.

  • If researchers were to detect colliding oxygen molecules using the JWST, it’s possible these planets could contain organisms that use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy.

  • It’s also possible that the oxygen may be on a planet that has no life at all, which is why the new technique is important.

  • If oxygen were present on an exoplanet that did not host life, it could be that it is outside of the “habitable zone,” have a warmer-than-average atmosphere or it could have an abundance of water vapor from evaporating oceans.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

  • The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or "Webb") is a space telescope that is planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

  • The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies.

  • Other goals include understanding the formation of stars and planets, and direct imaging of exoplanets and novas.

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