The surprising discovery of methane in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-80b is providing scientists with valuable insights into the chemical composition and evolution of Earth and other planets.
The Webb Space Telescope recently observed the exoplanet, located 163 light years away, and identified clear spectral characteristics of methane, a common component of solar system planets. This is a significant breakthrough, as previous attempts to find methane molecules in the atmospheres of exoplanets have been unsuccessful.
The team of astronomers from Arizona State University and the BAERI Institute used the Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam camera to measure the transmission spectrum and eclipse spectrum of WASP-80b. The results revealed unmistakable water and methane absorption spectral features, similar to those found in the spectra of giant planets in the solar system.
The detection of methane on WASP-80b can provide valuable information about the planet’s characteristics, formation, and evolution history. It also allows researchers to infer the ratio of carbon to oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. This discovery adds to the growing body of knowledge about exoplanets and their potential for hosting life.
Although this is not the first time the Webb Space Telescope has detected methane in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, the discovery of methane on WASP-80b is a significant contribution to the field of exoplanet research. Earlier this year, the telescope identified methane molecules around the exoplanet K12-18b.
The findings of the discovery were published in the journal Nature, highlighting the importance of this groundbreaking observation. The detection of methane on WASP-80b opens up new possibilities for understanding the formation and evolution of exoplanets, and sheds light on the potential for life beyond our solar system.