New Study using Webb Telescope Suggests Presence of Hydrogen Sulfide on Nearby Exoplanet

By Jurassic JennJul 10, 2024 18:43 PMScience
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Hydrogen Sulfide on Nearby Exoplanet
Hydrogen Sulfide on Nearby Exoplanet. Source: https://scientificult.it/

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, using data from the James Webb Space Telescope, have discovered a peculiar feature on a nearby exoplanet. HD 189733 b, a gas giant similar in size to Jupiter, has been found to contain trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide in its atmosphere. This molecule not only emits an odor reminiscent of rotten eggs but also provides valuable insights into the formation and composition of gas worlds beyond our solar system.

The findings of this study, led by astrophysicist Guangwei Fu, have been published in the journal Nature. Fu explains that while hydrogen sulfide is a known molecule found in Jupiter, this is the first time it has been detected outside of our solar system. He sees this discovery as a crucial stepping stone in unraveling the mysteries of planet formation and understanding the presence of hydrogen sulfide on other exoplanets.

Apart from hydrogen sulfide, Fu's team also measured the overall sulfur content in HD 189733 b's atmosphere and precisely determined the planet's main oxygen and carbon sources, which include water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Fu emphasizes the importance of studying sulfur as a vital building block for more complex molecules. By better understanding the role of sulfur, scientists hope to gain a deeper understanding of planetary formation and composition.

At a distance of only 64 light-years from Earth, HD 189733 b is considered the nearest observable "hot Jupiter." Its close proximity to its parent star allows astronomers to study its atmosphere in detail. The planet orbits its star at a distance 13 times closer than Mercury to the Sun and completes an orbit in just two Earth days. With scorching temperatures reaching 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, HD 189733 b is infamous for its extreme weather, including glass rain blown by winds exceeding 5,000 mph.

The discovery of hydrogen sulfide on this exoplanet adds to the capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, which has previously detected crucial molecules like water, carbon dioxide, and methane on other exoplanets. Fu believes that if future studies find similar sulfur enhancements in a large number of hot Jupiters, it would significantly inform our understanding of different planetary formation processes compared to our own Jupiter.

Furthermore, the researchers' data rules out the presence of methane in HD 189733 b's atmosphere. Previous claims about the abundance of methane on this exoplanet have been debunked with the unprecedented precision of infrared wavelength observations made by the Webb telescope.

The team also measured the levels of heavy metals on HD 189733 b, comparable to those found on Jupiter. This finding may provide insights into how the metal content correlates with a planet's mass. Less-massive icy giants like Neptune and Uranus contain more heavy metals than gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. Fu explains that these findings support the hypothesis that these planets accumulated more ice, rock, and heavy elements during their formation.

HD 189733 b's proximity to Earth combined with thorough investigations has made it a crucial anchor point for understanding how a planet's composition varies based on its mass and radius. Fu hopes that by tracking sulfur on more exoplanets, they will be able to determine its influence and shed light on the formation of these intriguing planets.

Understanding the atmospheric composition of exoplanets such as HD 189733 b not only contributes to scientific knowledge but also helps answer fundamental questions about their origin and formation. Fu and his team plan to further explore sulfur in different exoplanets to deepen our understanding of these captivating celestial bodies.

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