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A NASA research team makes an important discovery on a distant planet

A NASA research team makes an important discovery on a distant planet

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The James Webb Space Telescope detected methane in the atmosphere of the “warm Jupiter” planet WASP-80b. (Artist’s impression) © NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope reveals a secret about a distant exoplanet: there’s methane there. How did the gas on WASP-80b appear?

Washington, DC – A research team from the US space agency NASA has discovered methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. What may seem uninteresting at first is actually very interesting. Because methane can be created through biological processes – that is, produced by living organisms. Accordingly, the detection of methane on a UFO always causes excitement and a closer look at the object.

Methane can only withstand the light of the Sun or other stars for a short time. Therefore there must be constant “renewal”. This is the only way enough methane can be detected in the atmosphere. This is especially true for Earth-like planets. If a rocky planet contains methane, the source of the gas must be large, as it is on Earth. On our planet, methane is produced by microorganisms, plants and fungi, but also by animals such as sheep and cattle. However, there are also sources of methane that are not indicative of life, such as volcanic eruptions.

NASA detects methane gas on the exoplanet WASP-80b

In our solar system, for example, methane has been discovered on Mars, but no life associated with it has been found yet. In general, research assumes that most methane is produced through a process called serpentinization – where the mineral olivine is converted with the help of water. Olivine is commonly found in the Earth’s upper mantle, but not in gaseous planets because they are not made of rock.

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However, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has detected methane on a gas planet outside our solar system. The exoplanet WASP-80b is a gas giant planet orbiting a red dwarf star 162 light-years from Earth. The research team presents its results In the specialized magazine nature published After discovering methane, he became absolutely certain: “Not only have we found an elusive molecule, but we can now also investigate what this chemical composition says about the formation, growth and evolution of the planet.”

Thanks to the discovery of methane, research can learn a lot about the planet WASP-80b

In fact, methane tells researchers a lot: By measuring the amount of methane and water on a planet, one can infer the ratio of carbon to oxygen atoms on the distant planet. This ratio, in turn, provides clues about whether the planet formed near or far from its star. “With a temperature of about 550 degrees Celsius, WASP-80b is what researchers call a ‘warm Jupiter,'” explained study leader Taylor Bell and her co-author Louis Wilbanks. On the NASA website.

The researchers are particularly happy about one thing: “NASA has already sent space probes to the gas giants of our solar system in the past to measure the amount of methane and other molecules in their atmosphere. By measuring the same gas on an exoplanet, we can now make a comprehensive comparison and find out what If what we expect from the solar system matches what we see outside the solar system.

The James Webb Space Telescope will use additional instruments to examine the exoplanet WASP-80b in the future. The research team is already convinced: “The journey of discovery with the James Webb Space Telescope is full of potential surprises.” (unpaid bill)