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Carbon-rich rocky planets discovered by James Webb

Carbon-rich rocky planets discovered by James Webb

Using the James Webb Space Telescope, a group of astronomers has discovered that carbon-rich, rocky exoplanets are likely to be found around young stars.

The discovery was published in the journal Sciences, It was made using James Webb’s mid-infrared (MIRI) instrument while observing the object ISO-ChaI 147.

  • The object is a small, young star with a mass of only 10% of the Sun’s mass.
  • The planet still boasts of its planetary disk, which is rich in carbon-containing molecules and poor in oxygen.
  • It is located in the Chameleon I star-forming region, about 600 light-years away;
  • In the same region, there are about 237 other young stars.

The protoplanetary disk around the star, from which planets will form, tells us a lot about the future of the star system, such as how many worlds it will contain and their composition. Observations of ISO-ChaI 147 have shown that more small, rocky exoplanets are likely to form there than gas giants.

An artistic representation of what a protoplanetary disk would look like. (Credit: Demis/Shutterstock)

So, since low-mass stars are more common in the Milky Way than those that are the size of the Sun or larger, there may be more rocky worlds in our galaxy than previously thought.

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The exoplanets that will form will have atmospheres rich in hydrocarbons

Furthermore, observations found the presence of 13 carbon-containing molecules in the disk, including ethane and benzene, while it is poor in the presence of oxygen. This formation speaks volumes about the types of planets that form there. Although it is rocky like Earth, it will have a completely different primary atmosphere, rich in hydrocarbons, rather than carbon dioxide and water.

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The reason for this imbalance of carbon and oxygen is still not well understood by researchers, but it is thought to be due to reasons such as the protoplanetary disk of young stars being enriched with carbon, or the rapid depletion of oxygen in them.

Primordial star system (Image credit: NASA/FUSE/Lynette Cook)

Researchers now hope to use GEMS Webb to observe the protoplanetary disk of other low-mass stars. This research could tell us how common carbon-rich rocky exoplanet formation regions are.