Finding Atmospheres on Red Dwarf Planets Will Take Hundreds of Hours of Webb Time

This illustration shows what exoplanet K2-18 b could look like based on science data. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope examined the exoplanet and revealed the presence of carbon-bearing molecules. The abundance of methane and carbon dioxide, and shortage of ammonia, support the hypothesis that there may be a water ocean underneath a hydrogen-rich atmosphere in K2-18 b. But more extensive observations with the JWST are needed to understand its atmosphere with greater confidence. Image Credit: By Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)Science: Nikku Madhusudhan (IoA)

The JWST is enormously powerful. One of the reasons it was launched is to examine exoplanet atmospheres to determine their chemistry, something only a powerful telescope can do. But even the JWST needs time to wield that power effectively, especially when it comes to one of exoplanet science’s most important targets: rocky worlds orbiting red dwarfs.

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Venus is Like an Exoplanet that’s Right Next Door

Venus' thick clouds mean that only radar imaging can reveal surface details. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’re lucky to have a neighbour like Venus, even though it’s totally inhospitable, wildly different from the other rocky planets, and difficult to study. Its thick atmosphere obscures its surface, and only powerful radar can penetrate it. Its extreme atmospheric pressure and high temperatures are barriers to landers or rovers.

It’s like having a mysterious exoplanet next door.

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