As someone who worked on the James Webb Space Telescope, it’s amazing to me that scientists have already discovered methods of using the telescope in ways that weren’t predicted when it was designed, prior to it being launched.

The study, led by NASA scientists and published in Nature Astronomy today, highlights an intriguing new way the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope could be used to detect and measure oxygen on exoplanets…

The new study identifies a wavelength at the mid-infrared level that can be used to detect collisions of oxygen molecules both with oxygen and with other gas molecules. The study’s authors suggest that the JWST’s Mid InfraRed Instrument Low Resolution Spectrometer (MIRI LRS) could search for oxygen at this wavelength around exoplanets that are transiting their host stars.

This method would potentially allow us to detect Earth-like levels of oxygen in many star systems less than 16 light-years away. In more distant systems it would be able to detect levels several times higher than those on Earth.