Space Telescope Science Institute, Jeffrey Kluger, Webb discussed on TIME's Top Stories
A web space telescope is expected to reveal a new exoplanet photo. By Jeffrey kluger. At some point, things were destined to settle down in the glass and mission control room at the space telescope science institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for much of this year the institute has been the center of the astronomical world. After all, it is there that each image captured by the new James Webb Space Telescope, first arrives, including the dazzling batch received and released in July. But the real work the institute team does, analyzing the scientific data embedded in the pictures, is quieter, less flashy stuff. Still, this week as NASA reports, that quiet was broken by a new analysis of one of the July images, and as time has just learned, Webb will stir even more excitement soon with a much anticipated first of its kind photo release. Together, the space telescope science institute teams continued photo analysis will tell us more than ever about solar systems beyond our own. And the possibility that life could exist there. To begin, this week, space telescope science institute researchers announced that Webb had taken a big step in its search for biology's chemical fingerprints on distant exoplanets, a planet's orbiting other stars. The discovery of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet known as wasp 39 B it marks the first clear detection of CO2 in the atmosphere of any planet outside of the 8 that circle our own sun. Wasp 39 B is what astronomers rather unscientifically refer to as a puffy planet. With a diameter 1.3 times that of Jupiter, but a mass only one quarter as great. It also orbits so close to its parent star that the atmosphere reaches a broiling 900°C equal to 1600°F. The presence of organic chemistry, notwithstanding, wasp 39 B is thus not the kind of place astronomers would expect to go looking for life. Still, the presence of CO2 on the planet, combined with water vapor, sodium, and potassium that the Hubble and spitzer space telescopes had already discovered there is one more bit of proof that the universe is, among other things, a giant organic chemistry set. One in which the stuff of biology is found pretty much anywhere. That holds promise for similar discoveries on rockier, more temperate worlds, where life could take hold. Detecting such a clear signal of carbon dioxide a wasp 39 B, bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial sized planets, set astronomer Natalie batalha, of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who leads the team that made the discovery in a statement. With more than 5000 exoplanets having been spotted throughout the galaxy, astronomers now believe that virtually every star in the universe is circled by at least one planet, and many, like our own sun, by a whole litter of them. That's a lot of places for a biology to take hold. Meantime, expect bigger news from Webb in the coming weeks, and a lot more hoopla descending on the space telescope science institute mission control. While astronomers have been able to study the atmosphere of exoplanets by analyzing the changes in the wavelength of light that streams through the air of the planet, as it passes in front of its parent star, no one has ever captured a picture of an exoplanet itself. That, NASA administrator Bill Nelson told time and a conversation last week is about the change, thanks to Webb. Just a sneak preview, he said, the next photo you're going to get from Webb is of an exoplanet. I don't know when they're coming out with it, and I haven't seen it yet, but it's just opening up all new understanding of the universe to us..