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James Webb space telescope finds water vapor in planet-forming zone: Here's what you need to know

The James Webb Space Telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Edited By: Vishal Upadhyay New Delhi Updated on: July 26, 2023 9:29 IST
James webb. webb telescope, water, vapour, vapor, PDS 70, exoplanet
Image Source : NASA This artist’s concept portrays the star PDS 70 and its inner protoplanetary disk: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope, a powerful next-generation space observatory, has made a groundbreaking discovery by detecting water vapor in a planetary system located 370 light-years away. The system, known as PDS 70, revolves around a cooler K-type star, unlike the Sun, and consists of both an inner and outer disk of gas and dust separated by an 8 billion-kilometer gap. Inside this gap, two gas-giant planets are known to exist.

Using Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), scientists observed the presence of water in the inner disk, specifically at distances less than 160 million kilometers from the star. This region is of particular interest as it is where rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth typically form. This marks the first time water has been detected in the terrestrial region of a disk already known to host protoplanets.

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Giulia Perotti, the lead author from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Germany, expressed excitement over this discovery, stating that the detection provides valuable insights into the formation of rocky planets similar to Earth.

“We’ve seen water in other disks, but not so close in and in a system where planets are currently assembling. We couldn’t make this type of measurement before Webb,” said lead author Giulia Perotti of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany.

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PDS 70 is estimated to be around 5.4 million years old, relatively old for stars with planet-forming disks, making the presence of water vapor in the system even more surprising. Astronomers have yet to detect any planets forming within the inner disk of PDS 70, but they have observed raw materials like silicates that are crucial for building rocky worlds.

The discovery of water vapor suggests that if rocky planets are indeed forming in this region, they will have access to water right from the start. The origin of the water, however, remains unclear, prompting researchers to further investigate using Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to gain a deeper understanding of the PDS 70 system.

Inputs from IANS

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