Water vapor was discovered around a comet in the main asteroid belt for the first time – thanks to the Webb telescope

Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers discovered the first known case of water vapor around a comet in the main asteroid belt (the region of the Solar System located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). This was reported by Engadget.

It is noteworthy that this is already the second breakthrough observation made thanks to the telescope in a few weeks. For the current discovery, specialists used the observatory’s near-infrared camera.

Scientists have speculated that comets may store water ice so relatively close to the Sun, but have not yet had conclusive evidence. They expected it to be in the Kuiper belt or Oort cloud, which are far enough from the Sun for ice to be stored.

However, these findings have created a new mystery. Although carbon dioxide typically makes up 10% of the potentially vaporized material in comets, Webb’s instruments did not detect it in comet 238P/Read. The research team suggests that the carbon dioxide either dissipated over billions of years, or that the comet formed in a relatively quiet part of the solar system where carbon dioxide was not present.

238P/Read was one of the first objects on the basis of which the main belt comet category was defined. The Webb Telescope is the first instrument powerful enough to study these comets in detail. More observations will be needed to understand whether the lack of CO2 in 238P/Read is a coincidence or a common feature of other main-belt comets.

Recently, the James Webb telescope reached another milestone, taking a picture of the first asteroid belt ever seen outside the solar system. Thanks to this, scientists were able to better study one of the brightest stars in the night sky – Fomalhaut.