JWST practices studying alien atmospheres for signs of life

A boiling Saturn-like planet 700 light-years away from the sun has become the best-explored planet outside our solar system. The James Webb Space Telescope’s measurements of the planet’s atmosphere have revealed unprecedented details of its chemistry, and even allowed astronomers to test methods for detecting alien life.

The exoplanet WASP-39b, which orbits a star in the constellation Virgo, made headlines in late August when the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST) found carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. It was the first ever such detection and experts hailed the finding as a major breakthrough. Now, less than three months later, an avalanche of studies based on the grand telescope’s observations have revealed the most minute details of WASP-39b’s atmosphere, which even enabled astronomers to make conclusions about the exoplanet’s formation history.

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