There’s a New Way to Find Atmosphere on Exoplanets

When NASA launches the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021, one of its contributions to astronomy will be the study of exoplanets. The most important question is: can a small exoplanet full of rocks orbit close to a red dwarf star?

Four papers were published in the Astrophysical Journal. A team of astronomers suggested a new method of using Webb in order to determine if a rocky exoplanet has an atmosphere. The technique, which involved measuring the temperature of the planet when it passes behind its star, is faster than the traditional methods of atmospheric detection, such as transmission spectroscopy.

They found out that Webb could easily infer the presence or the absence of an atmosphere around some rocky exoplanets, with less than 10 hours of observing time for every planet. This comes from the co-author of three of the papers, Jacob Bean, from the University of Chicago.

New Method to Find Atmosphere on Exoplanets Found by NASA

Astronomers are interested in exoplanets that orbit red dwarf stars, and there are so many reasons for it. These stars are smaller and cooler than the Sun, and this is the most common type of stars in our galaxy.

And due to the fact that a red dwarf is small, a planet that passes in front of it will seem to block the light of the star. This makes it easier for us to find the planet that’s orbiting a red dwarf, through the transit technique.

Red dwarfs also produce less heat than our Sun, so in order to get habitable temperatures, the planed would need to orbit close to a red dwarf star. For it to be a habitable zone – to be an area around the star, where water could exist – the planet has to orbit closer to the star than the distance between Mercury and the Sun.

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