Why the discovery of sulfur dioxide and photochemistry on an exoplanet is a big deal

YouTube's friendly neighborhood astrophysicist, Dr. Becky (joined by Dr. Jake Taylor), discusses the recent findings of the presence of sulfur-dioxide (only possible through photochemistry) on WASP-39b, a planet in the constellation Virgo.

Dr. Becky explains why WASP-39b was chosen for early exoplanet exploration using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and why the ability to detect photochemistry is so important.

While WASP-39b is a gaseous hellscape, at 1500-degrees F, the discovery of sulfur-dioxide in the planet's atmosphere means that photochemistry is at work and confirms that the JWST is able to detect it. This means that the JWST will also be able to detect ozone (also produced through photochemistry) in the atmospheres of more Earth-like planets. Atmospheric ozone is critical in shielding UV radiation here on Earth and would likely function similarly on any planets that may harbor organic life.