An international team of scientists is the 1st to directly measure the amount of carbon dioxide and water in a planet’s atmosphere in another solar system. The planet is roughly 340 light-years away. The team used a ground-based Gemini Observatory telescope in Chile. Outside our solar system, there are thousands of unknown planets. Scientists use both space and ground-based telescopes to examine how these exoplanets are formed and the difference between the planets in our solar system and these exoplanets.
For this, the team of scientists focused on planet WASP-77Ab,” a type of exoplanet called a hot Jupiter because it is similar to Jupiter but with a temperature upwards of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The main is to measure the composition of the atmosphere to determine what elements are present. Hot Jupiter’s, because of their size and temperature, are excellent laboratories for measuring atmospheric gases and testing planet-formation theories.
Spacecraft still cannot be sent to planets beyond our solar system. But can study the light from exoplanets with telescopes. The telescope used for observing this light can be either in space or from the ground. According to the team of scientists of this research obtaining details about atmospheric composition is challenging. There is steep competition for telescope time. Hubble’s instruments only measure the water, but the team also wanted information on carbon dioxide. This is where the team turned to the Gemini South telescope.
To address the questions scientists had, they needed to try something different. And the analysis of the capabilities of Gemini South indicated that the team could obtain ultra-precise atmospheric measurements. The team observed the thermal glow of the exoplanet as it orbited its host star. The team used the Gemini South telescope with an instrument called the Immersion GRating Infrared Spectrometer. The team gathered the information for this instrument on the presence and relative amounts of different gases in its atmosphere.
With the precise measurements of water and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of WASP-77Ab, the team was then able to estimate the relative amounts of oxygen and carbon in the exoplanet’s atmosphere. These amounts were in line with the team’s expectations. In an exoplanet atmosphere obtaining ultra-precise gas, abundance may help scientists to look for life on other planets.
The team is planning to do next is for many more planets to repeat the analysis. They want to build up a sample of atmospheric measurements on at least 15 more planets. According to the team, measuring the abundances of carbon and oxygen in the atmospheres of a larger sample of exoplanets provides much-needed context for understanding the origins and evolution of Jupiter and Saturn. Scientists also look forward to what future telescopes will be able to offer.
The team said if they can do this with today’s telescope, then think about what they will do with the up-and-coming telescopes. It is a real-time possibility that the team can use this same method to find life opportunities by the end of this decade, which also contain oxygen and carbon, on rocky Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system.