On Tuesday, a group of NASA astronomers disclosed the first much-anticipated pictures captured by the groundbreaking James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
Starting from a full infrared image of the universe far away to a stunning image of the Carina Nebula, the world was not disheartening. Moreover, with the awe-inspiring pictures, Earthlings got a sneak peek at the kind of science JWST is going to be conducting as it searches for habitable exoplanets in the universe. Indeed, astronomers disclosed the most detailed measurements of an exoplanet’s atmosphere outside of our solar system to date, and it seems that there are traces of water, haze, and clouds in the planet’s atmosphere that weren’t known before.
The calculation, which is the most accurate of their kind, was done by JWST’s Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), which assessed light from the exoplanet as it passed across its star. The light curve exhibited a change in brightness and distinctive wavelengths of infrared light between 0.6 and 2.8 microns.
“From our viewing angle, this transits in front of its star every three and a half days, allowing a small fraction of the star’s light to pass through its atmosphere and reveal its composition,” Avi Loeb, the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University, explained to Salon via email. “Such measurements help us to better understand how gas giants in the solar system formed. “
The assessments confirmed a few of what scientists already knew: the size, orbit, and mere existence of WASP-96b. However, as stated before, it also disclosed a hidden albeit somewhat familiar atmosphere, one with an “unambiguous signature of water, indications of haze, and evidence of clouds that were thought not to exist based on prior observations,” as NASA explained.