NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has uncovered something remarkable; a distant planet outside of our solar system that looks unlike anything we have ever seen before. This unique world, known as GJ 1214 b, is highly reflective and has a steamy atmosphere – the closest look at it yet. Previous observations have been unable to penetrate its mysterious depths, but thanks to the Webb Telescope, we now have a better understanding of this “mini-Neptune”. Unfortunately, the planet is too hot to sustain liquid-water oceans, but there could still be a considerable amount of water in vapor form in its atmosphere.
Eliza Kempton, a researcher at the University of Maryland, who is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Nature, explains that if the planet is indeed water-rich, it may have been a “water world” at the time of its formation, with a significant amount of watery and icy material. These findings may help researchers better understand the formation and evolution of planets in our universe, and could lead to new insights about the conditions necessary for the emergence of life on other worlds.The Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) allowed the research team to observe a planet orbiting a distant star in unprecedented detail. By creating a heat map of the planet, MIRI was able to reveal both its day and night sides, and uncover details of the atmosphere’s composition. This powerful tool has allowed to explore the universe in ways previously not thought possible.
Through the use of an observatory and the power of scientific exploration, researchers were able to discover that the day and night sides of the planet have a significant temperature difference. While the day side was 535 degrees Farenheit (279 degrees Celsius), the night side was significantly colder at 326 degrees Farenheit (165 degrees Celsius). This finding provides valuable insight into how planets can distribute heat, and has implications for our understanding of climate change. GJ 1214 b has an atmosphere that is not composed mainly of hydrogen molecules like many other planets. This fact is a key clue to the history of GJ 1214 b, and indicates that the planet had a watery start. This big shift in composition is only possible in an atmosphere made up of heavier molecules such as water or methane that appear similar when observed with the MIRI instrument.
This new discovery of a mini-Neptune orbiting a star far from our own solar system has opened up a world of possibilities. While the planet is hot by human standards, it is much cooler than expected due to its unusually shiny atmosphere, which reflects a large fraction of the light from its parent star. This unexpected property of the planet could lead to a deeper understanding of these mini-Neptunes, which are the most common type of planet in the galaxy but remain mysterious due to their absence in our own solar system. Measurements so far have shown that they are similar to downsized versions of Neptune, but beyond that, little is known.