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The James Webb Space Telescope Discovers a Blue Planet With Various Problems. The Weirdest One: It Smells Like Rotten Eggs

  • The telescope’s most recent observation features a gas giant known as HD 189733 b, which is located 64 light-years away.

  • This exoplanet boasts incredibly high temperatures of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and is plagued by winds reaching 5,000 mph speeds, making it the nearest “hot Jupiter” to Earth.

HD 189733 b exoplanet
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The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has significantly improved our understanding of the cosmos. One of the most intriguing possibilities of this joint observatory from NASA, ESA, and CSA is the potential to characterize planets beyond our solar system.

An exoplanet that stinks like rotten eggs. One of the planets that has been studied in detail with the Webb telescope is HD 189733 b. Scientists have found that this gas giant, located just 64 light-years from Earth, has an atmosphere that smells strongly of rotten eggs.

While no astronomer has physically smelled the exoplanet, the Webb telescope’s detailed spectroscopic observations have detected the presence of hydrogen sulfide in its atmosphere, which is known to have this distinctive odor.

The “hot Jupiter” closest to Earth. The term “hot Jupiter” refers to gas giants that orbit very close to their stars. HD 189733 b, a hot Jupiter, completes an orbit around its star in just 2.2 Earth days.

The close proximity between HD 189733 b and its star leads to extreme temperatures of over 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit in the planet’s atmosphere, along with supersonic winds that carry tiny glass particles at speeds of 5,000 mph. Experts believe these particles give the planet its deep blue color.

HD 189733 b is relatively near to Earth, making it an excellent subject in the study of these types of planets. The study focuses not on searching for extraterrestrial life, as the planet’s extreme conditions make that unfeasible, but on understanding more about its atmospheric chemistry.

Why is hydrogen sulfide important? This foul-smelling gas could help researchers understand the evolution of gas giants and stars. In fact, it may also have played a role in the formation of our solar system.

Scientists previously found water vapor and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of HD 189733 b. The discovery of hydrogen sulfide adds complexity to the investigation of its environment, both chemically and physically.

How do astronomers observe exoplanets? They use Webb’s instruments to track them as they pass in front of their stars, causing a slight decrease in the stars’ brightness. This allows a small amount of light to pass through the planet’s atmosphere.

Astronomers analyze the spectrum of this light to identify the different chemical compounds present. The Webb telescope has observed planets with unique features, such as clouds made of rock and others as light as cotton candy. However, these planets are too extreme to support life.

Image | NASA | ESA | M. Kornmesser | Desy Bachir (via Flickr)

Related | Scientists Have Been Trying to Understand This Star for 50 Years. The Webb Telescope Figured It Out Quickly: It Wasn’t a Star

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